News Release, St. Mary’s County Public Information office
LEONARDTOWN, MD – The Friends of St. Clement’s Island and Piney Point Museums, the nonprofit organization that supports the historic sites overseen by the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, was recently awarded a $2,300 grant from the National Parks Service (NPS) for a new Runaway Slave exhibit at the Old Jail Museum in Historic Leonardtown. The Old Jail Museum, newly acquired by the St. Mary’s County Museum Division as its fourth museum and historic site, is only one of three locations in St. Mary’s County on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The Division seeks to update the Old Jail’s exhibits and tell more little-known stories of the site, including those freedom-seekers seeking liberty in the North.
According to the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, the focus of the exhibits at the Old Jail Museum will be changed from one of the general collections of the St. Mary’s County Historical Society to focus in on the history of the building itself and the fascinating stories of the people held there. This project will start that process through research into the history of the building during the pre-Civil War years.
“A great deal of local legend exists about its use as a slave pen and as having housed runaway slaves, but there has been little formal research done,” says Karen Stone, Manager for the St. Mary’s County Museum Division. “This project will verify these tales and further explain the details of arrests and holdings, making the prisoners come to life as human beings and not just anonymous figures in the distant past.” Through this grant, the Museum Division will fill that gap, thereby increasing awareness of the Underground Railroad and the struggles people faced when traveling it.
This grant is part of $127,000 in funds available for sites on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program (NTF) for 2020. Diane Miller, Ph.D., National Program Manager for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, described the project enthusiastically in the acceptance letter to Ms. Stone: “We found your project to be very exciting and feel that it will advance the goals of preserving the history of the Underground Railroad and informing the public. We commend your creativity in developing the proposal and your dedication to this important part of our heritage.”
“We are truly honored that this important project was selected for grant funding,” says Dale Springer, President of the Friends of St. Clement’s Island & Piney Point Lighthouse Museums. “These funds will really help our partner organizations bring attention to the stories of freedom seekers and their plight for liberty – stories that happened right here in St. Mary’s County and Leonardtown.”
Arthur Shepherd, Director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Recreation & Parks, under whose purview the Museum Division falls, is excited at the Division’s constant drive to acquire and improve historic sites and stories around St. Mary’s County: “With the Old Jail Museum being the fourth and newest museum and historic site overseen by the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, I’m pleased we can continue to offer county residents and visitors alike these vibrant and diverse stories of St. Mary’s County’s history as part of our overall recreational options. Our museums are about more than just historical facts – they’re about presenting in a fun and interesting way real people and real places with really interesting lives.”
Once fully open, the Old Jail Museum will have expanded hours of operation, a museum shop, and be home to the new Leonardtown Visitor Center. It is located at 41625 Court House Drive, Leonardtown, MD 20650, right on the grounds of the Courthouse in downtown Leonardtown, a short walk from the Square. For more information, please visit Facebook.com/TheOldJailMuseum.