County updated on preservation of Pomonkey district
Seeking historic designation for the area’s old buildings
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.”