IT IS EASY to miss Oella, the little mill town across the Patapsco River between Ellicott City and Catonsville. But now there's a big reason to discover its pleasures. The Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Oella was dedicated recently and will be open by appointment throughout the summer.
It took years of planning to make the museum a reality. There was a struggle to acquire Banneker's artifacts. Many items were sold at auction. But perseverance has its rewards. Emanuel J. Friedman, a Virginia investor, donated his acquisitions to the African-American Civil War Foundation, but then agreed to loan the collection to the Banneker Museum.
The $2.5 million park and museum is on the site of Banneker's home. The 6,000-square-foot facility has opened with an exhibit reflecting life in Colonial times, "Remember Maryland," sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Council.
Much of what Banneker owned was destroyed when his log cabin burned in a fire after his death. The artifacts donated by Mr. Friedman, including a William and Mary drop-leaf table, candlesticks and documents, will be brought to the museum next year.
The story of Benjamin Banneker is important to Maryland. Abolitionists before the Civil War often used him as an example of what blacks could achieve. But his life would be a good example for anyone, regardless of race.
Banneker, the son of a former slave, was a self-taught mathematician and inventor. His family purchased land in Oella around 1737 and moved there when he was 6 years old. In later years, he developed a friendship with George Ellicott, from whom he borrowed a telescope, and took up astronomy. As a surveyor, Banneker helped lay out the District of Columbia. He died in 1806.
Not enough Marylanders know the story of a man who in 18th-century America refused to succumb to the limits that others attempted to impose on him. The Banneker Museum provides a perfect setting to contemplate his genius and the inspiration he has provided.
Pub Date: 7/02/98