County up­dated on preser­va­tion of Pomon­key district

Seek­ing his­toric des­ig­na­tion for the area’s old build­ings

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­ Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

Charles County, like ev­ery- where else in the coun­try, was heav­ily seg­re­gated in the early 20th cen­tury be­hind the racism of Jim Crow laws.

And also like many other ar- eas, the African-Amer­i­can com- mu­nity had to sep­a­rate and sus­tain it­self in pock­ets of dif­fer­ent places. Some of those ar­eas still stand to­day — and the county is work­ing to pre­serve one of its own.

On Tues­day, the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers were up­dated on the progress of gain­ing a his­toric des­ig­na­tion for the Old Pomon­key His­toric District still stand­ing in the western por­tion of Charles County.

Beth Groth, a plan­ner in the county’s Plan­ning and Growth Man­age­ment Di­vi­sion, said the study and rec­om­menda- tion for the district’s his­toric des­ig­na­tion was com­pleted by Ot­tery Group his­to­rian De­bra McClane.

The com­mu­nity served Af- ri­can-Amer­i­cans in the early 20th cen­tury as a multi-use res­i­den­tial, ed­u­ca­tional, com- mer­cial and re­li­gious district for decades.

“Most notably, the old Pomon­key High School, the Met- ropoli­tan United Methodist Church, Wal­ton’s Mar­ket and the Bee Hive Ma­sonic Lodge,” she said.

There are a to­tal of 12 stand­ing his­toric struc­tures in the district, she said, with three res­i­dences in­cluded be­cause of their as­so­ci­a­tion with some of the other build­ings cur­rent- ly stand­ing.

There were two pub­lic meet­ings held in April and July of 2015 where pub­lic com­ment, me­mora­bilia and other sug­ges­tions were taken from cit­i­zens who lived and par­tic­i­pated in the com­mu­nity, she said.

“Pub­lic out­reach was a huge com­po­nent of this project,” Groth said. The pur­pose of the com­ment was for cit­i­zens to “help pro­vide some ba­sis of his­tory for the com­mu­nity.”

Among their sug­ges­tions, she said, was find­ing a way to get the district rec­og­nized on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter for his­toric dis­tricts. The com­mu­nity also sug­gested the old Pomon­key High School be turned into a com­mu­nity youth or se­nior cen­ter, cof­fee shop or art gallery, she said.

The Pomon­key Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion is cur­rently work­ing on the first phase of ren­o­va­tions to the school, Groth said. The next steps for build­ing the dis- trict’s his­tory are to com­plete ad­di­tional sur­veys for things just out­side of the cur­rent bound­ary be­tween Route 227 and Met­ro­pol­i­tan Church Road.

County Com­mis­sioner De­bra Davis (D) said she is “ex­cited to see this con­tin­u­ing for the county.” But they have to keep work­ing with the com­mu­nity, she said, to ul­ti­mately get it to where they want it as a na­tion­ally-des­ig­nated land­mark.

“I’ve got­ten so many let­ters and calls re­gard­ing the ex­cite­ment around it,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to lose any of the im­pe­tus or the ex­cite­ment.”

With a dearth of pub­lic meet­ings since 2015, she said, the pub­lic in­ter­est in work­ing with the county may be wan­ing. Con­tin­u­ing to sur­vey the com­mu­nity is im­por­tant to keep the ex­cite­ment go­ing, she said.

Groth said that al­though the pub­lic meet­ings have not con­tin­ued, the com­mu­nity is not any less en­thu­si­as­tic about a pos­si­ble des­ig­na­tion.

The high school alumni have be­gun work­ing with the county to ren­o­vate the school and take more pub­lic sur­veys, she said, which could lead to ad­di­tional pub­lic hear­ings. There are no sur­veys sched­uled as of yet, Groth said.

The county has sub­mit­ted an in­ven­tory form to the Mary- land His­toric Trust and is cur­rently work­ing to con­vince them to deem the com­mu­nity el­i­gi­ble for a his­toric des­igna- tion on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter. Both the county and the Ot- tery Group sent rec­om­men­da­tions in fa­vor of reg­is­ter­ing the com­mu­nity, Groth said, but the trust still needs some con­vinc­ing.

Cathy Thomp­son, a pro­gram man­ager for the Com­mu­nity Plan­ning Depart­ment, said the county can des­ig­nate the area as a his­tor­i­cal land­mark, but there are re­stric­tions and lim­i­ta­tions be­hind that. Any changes to his­tor­i­cal items must go through a process of ap­proval in that case, she said.

But be­ing part of the Na­tional Reg­is­ter would al­low more room for change and recog­ni­tion than any reg­u­la­tion, she said. The com­mu­nity has in­ter­est in both.

“There was an over­whelm­ing in­ter­est in pur­su­ing that pro­gram, al­though there was cer­tainly an over­whelm­ing con­sen­sus that they wanted to see the com­mu­nity rec­og­nized in some way,” Thomp­son said. “It is rec­og­nized now as a sur­vey district. That’s suf­fi­cient in terms of local des­ig­na­tion. That doesn’t mean we stop work­ing with them to con­tinue to tell the story.”

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