Last weekend, more than 10,000 people attended one or more of the events of Heritage Days, an annual countywide festival designed to tangibly introduce visitors to various aspects of Montgomery County history.
“We were thrilled that the good weather held all weekend,” said Sarah L. Rogers, executive director of Heritage Montgomery, the nonprofit historical society which sponsors Heritage days.
During last year’s events, torrential rain hampered attendance and forced the cancellation or postponement of several events.
A number of this year’s events focused on the legacy of the American Civil War in the county.
Visitors to Blockhouse Point Conservation Park in Potomac had the opportunity to visit the site of a Union Army encampment off the park’s trails near the C&O Canal and Potomac River.
This strategically-important encampment near Washington, D.C., known as Muddy Branch, was occupied during the course of the war by many prominent Union soldiers.
They included Robert Gould Shaw, who served in the early days of the war in 1861 as a Lieutenant.
Shaw would later be promoted to Colonel and command the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first African American regiments of the war, as depicted in the film “Glory.”
“I hope people realize that there are still things like this that they can come and visit that are related to the Civil War,” said Don Housley, a Montgomery Parks volunteer who conducted tours over the weekend. “I think this is, at least on public land, the best undisturbed campsite that there is in the county.”
“I have been here perhaps 20 times, taking these same trails, and I never knew half of what Don told us,” said David Weisz, who took the tour on Saturday.
Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton invited visitors to explore the Harper Cabin, a chestnut log cabin purchased by Thomas Harper, an emancipated slave, and his family in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Like many others, the Harpers employed the farming and craft skills which they had learned during slavery to establish a homestead for themselves.
At one point, 15 people lived in the small cabin.
In addition to tours of the cabin, the exhibit featured demonstrations of period cooking, crafts, and the board games played by former slaves, such as chess, checkers and Parcheesi.
“Studying the example of the Harpers, you can learn about the benefits of communing with the natural environment,” said Quame Dejonji, a volunteer who guided the tours and demonstrations at the Harper Cabin. “It helps you to be innovative and think outside the box.”
The nonprofit group Montgomery Preservation sponsored a two hour bike tour of historic Silver Spring on Sunday morning.
The tour left from and returned to the B&O Railroad Station, visiting several historical sites pertaining to the life and career of Francis Preston Blair, a prominent politician and co-founder of the Republican Party who died in Silver Spring in 1876.
Blair’s son Montgomery, for whom the Silver Spring high school is named, represented the fugitive slave Dred Scott and later served as Postmaster General in President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet.
“It’s wonderful that even in an area as built up as Silver Spring, there are still pockets of history that you can find and explore,” said Eileen McGuckian, president of Montgomery Preservation.
After the bike tour, the B&O Railroad Station hosted an open house featuring model trains and antique station equipment, as well as videos and exhibits on the evolution of rail travel as the once heavily wooded area was developed into a suburb.
The station, which opened in 1945, was frequently visited by President Harry Truman and his family when they traveled out of Washington during his tenure.
“All of our volunteers and participating organizations did an exceptional job,” Rogers said.
Rogers said she particularly enjoyed attending the dedication of a new trail by the Piscataway Conoy Indian tribe near the mouth of Monocacy Road in Dickerson. Members of the tribe performed traditional songs and dance and discussed tribal history.
“Next year is the twentieth anniversary of Heritage Days and we are going to go all out,” Rogers said.