Planners seek feedback in telling story of Uncle Tom's Cabin
Bethesda site could be open to the public by 2012
This story was corrected on June 10, 2010. An explanation of the correction follows the story.
The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission is looking to the public when it comes to the future of the Josiah Henson Site, formerly known as the Riley Farm or Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Park and Planning will host a community meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Tilden Middle School, 11211 Old Georgetown Road in Rockville as part of a planning process for the Bethesda site, formerly a slave-holding plantation where the Rev. Josiah Henson lived and worked as a slave from 1795 to 1830. Planners are creating guidelines for the sites' adaptation into a public museum.
Henson's autobiographies were the basis for Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous work, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The book, published in 1852, inspired the movement against slavery in the United States.
"A lot of people know Uncle Tom's Cabin' the book, but it's important to connect the man, Josiah Henson, with the book. He's much more than just a character, he has a much larger role to play in history," said Rachel Newhouse, a project manager with Park and Planning. "It's a huge educational value for us to start delving into this."
Henson's autobiographies detail his life as a slave on the farm, which was owned by Isaac Riley. In 1830, Henson escaped to Canada and returned to the U.S. several times, shuttling other slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
"His is really a terrific story of a figure that we may not know a lot about, and it's from his narrative that we have a very good picture of slavery here in Montgomery County, Maryland," said Shirl Spicer, a museum director for Park and Planning.
The 1.43 acre site, located on Old Georgetown Road near the Luxmanor neighborhood, features a historic house that was once the home of Riley and a portion of the former plantation. It was purchased for $1 million by Park and Planning in 2006. Officials are aiming open the site to the public by 2012. It is now open several times a year for tours and by appointment.
"We're going to build our interpretation around his life story, and talk about Henson, Riley, the plantation, and slavery in Montgomery County," Spicer said. "Our hope is that we can give the community a facility that is really going to focus on Henson but how large, how much we can do, all of that remains to be seen."
A community meeting about the Josiah Henson Site is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Tilden Middle School, 11211 Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda.
Correction: A previous version of this story included an incorrect time for the Park and Planning meeting.