Rockville Nights: Montgomery County Planning Board

Montgomery County planners are recommending that the Montgomery County Planning Board approve moving the controversial Confederate statue from the red brick courthouse to the Beall Dawson House in Rockville. As an alternative, they suggest giving it to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, or another private owner. As a last resort, they recommend moving it to one of two possible county parks, Potomac or Darnestown.

Such a decision is not yet agreed upon, but any removal of the statue will have to go through the Rockville Historic District Commission. This body — mostly unknown to the public, but well known to readers of this blog, which regularly covers its meetings — has jurisdiction over the historic Rockville Courthouse District, in which the statue currently sits.

The statue itself is owned by Montgomery County, as is the property on which it rests.

Montgomery County Council staffer Marlene Michaelson was tasked by Council Speaker George Leventhal this summer to convene a committee to discuss moving the statue. Michaelson started a search on the site and asked about one in particular, Woodlawn Manor Special Park.

Several meetings took place at the end of July and August. Leventhal then invited the following people to participate in another meeting on August 11:

Timothy Chesnutt, Director of Recreation and Parks, Town of Rockville
Anthony Cohen, President, Menare Foundation and Button Farm
Bonnie Kirkland, Assistant Director of Administration, County Executive Office
Jamie Kuhns, Senior Historian, M-NCPPC
Joey Lampl, Cultural Resource Manager, M-NCPPC
Matthew Logan, Executive Director, Montgomery History
County Executive Special Assistant Joy Nurmi
Nancy Pickard, Executive Director, Peerless Rockville
Anita Powell, president of the NAACP Montgomery County Maryland branch and the Lincoln Park Historical Foundation
Laurie-Anne Sayles, President, African American Democratic Club of Montgomery County
Scott Whipple, Historic Preservation Unit Supervisor, M-NCPPC

Powell is also a commissioner for the Rockville HDC.

From a list of 14 potential sites, the group doesn’t agree or approve a final location for the statue, but generated a shorter list of 5 potential locations:

1. Beall-Dawson Historical Park in Rockville.
2. Callithea Farm Special Park in Potomac.
3. Darnestown Square Heritage Park in Darnestown.
4. Jesup Blair Local Park in Silver Spring.
5. The Edgewood Farm (privately owned) in Gaithersburg/Unity.

Some attendees expressed concern that the county would lose control of who could access the statue, should the private owner wish to restrict public access. The county could also lose the ability to provide context in any display of the statue, with some concerned the display could continue to be offensive to some. Others felt that the statue should remain where it is, with better interpretive display elements.

A chart is expected to be posted on the Montgomery County Council website next week, for public comment.

However, RockvilleNights.com already got the chart (click to enlarge):

If you can’t wait until next week, comments on the statue can be sent to Council Chairman George Leventhal / Montgomery County Council / Re: Confederate Statue / 100 Maryland Ave. / Rockville, MD 20850, or by email at [email protected]

Someone will also have to pay the “hard costs” of moving, maintaining and securing the statue. County Executive Ike Leggett identified the following costs:

 Access (if a driveway, path, parking lot, trail, etc. is required or to comply with ADA)
 Fencing
 Lighting (depending on site selected)
 Security
 Preservation
 Interpretive signage and other historical displays

The Montgomery County Parks Department said it does not believe the statue should go to a public park in the county.

Callithea Farm is primarily an equestrian facility on River Road, and the statue should be fenced to keep visitors separated from grazing horses. The park is adjacent to the Camp at Muddy Branch site, a Union camp during the Civil War, and a trail is expected to be constructed from Blockhouse Point Conservation Park (the camp’s modern location) to Callithea Farm. No lighting could be used, as it would attract disease-carrying insects that afflict horses.

Darnestown Square Heritage Park seems an unlikely location, as it is adjacent to a shopping center anchored at Harris Teeter on Route 28. 18,000 Union soldiers camped there, but does it make sense in as a link when you consider the statue remembers Confederate soldiers? Wouldn’t the risk of vandalism – likely to persist in almost any place accessible to the public, especially with media attention and controversy – be high there as well? There is also no vehicular access to this site and it contains a cemetery whose grounds cannot be disturbed or altered.

Jesup Blair Local Park is a more accessible location, in a more populated area – which would obviously also increase the risk of vandalism. Located at Georgia Avenue and Blair Road near the DC line, the park is named after a member of the famous Blair family, who played an extremely important role in the history of the county and Maryland, including during the civil war. This connection, and more specifically the Blairs’ close ties to the Lincoln administration (and the fact that Montgomery Blair’s house was burned down by Confederates), makes this seem like a completely crazy context for a Confederate statue again. In my opinion, at least.

Planning staff discourage placement of the statue at any of these 3 county parks.

Their main recommendation is to move it to Beall Dawson House, or transfer it to the Daughters of the Confederacy or another private owner.

If it’s necessary to use a county park, however, staff recommend Callithea Farm — but only if “it can be housed in a proper Civil War reception center.” This would require the statue to be stored at county expense until such a facility could be funded and constructed.

Planners’ second choice is Darnestown Square. They recommend the Planning Board ask Leggett and Leventhal to remove Jesup Blair from consideration.

Leggett is scheduled to appear before the Rockville HDC at its September 17 meeting. The county planning board will discuss the issue and vote on its recommendations at its September 3 meeting.

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