Historical markers to tell the story of life in Parole


Jean Haughton enjoys telling the local children tales of how life used to be in Parole.

She said they stare in disbelief whenever she speaks of the houses their grandparents had lived in on West Street, now a haven for fast-food restaurants and retail stores.

"Children growing up now have no idea of the history" within their community, said Haughton, 72, a native of the area that straddles Annapolis' western border. City Alderwoman Classie G. Hoyle has a plan to bridge the generation gap there and honor its history.

The plan: to place heritage markers that tell stories about Parole's historical sites. The markers are metal storyboards that would use text, photos and even artifacts to tell about Parole's history.

The first of 15 markers will be dedicated today at Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church in Parole.

The marker documents the church's 132-year history, Hoyle said. The markers are expected to cost a total of $50,000, including maintenance. The county, which received a legacy grant from the state, has pledged $35,000 for the project. The rest will come from the city and local businesses, she said. The idea came to Hoyle in 1995 during "Parole Week," when a community organization published a book about the area's history and placed temporary markers on street signs. The Ward 3 Democrat said she realized that the "community is changing so rapidly ... we're losing so much of the history."

The project was finally launched last year. The markers are being put up through September, she said.

Information on Parole's history was gleaned from meetings with older residents who had spent most of their lives in Parole.

Their stories were recorded and researched for verification, Hoyle said. Unfortunately, some of the stories were hard to verify, and many of the seniors could not remember exact dates of events, Hoyle said.

Hoyle said two other markers would soon be posted - one on the education of blacks in Parole and the other explaining the history of its first community health center.

Although all the information on each marker has been verified and all the memorabilia gathered, Hoyle said she wants the organizations whose histories are mentioned to approve of the markers before they're unveiled. The proposed design for a fourth marker about the history of the Cecil Memorial United Methodist Church has been placed on display at the church so that parishioners can offer comments.

Located less than two miles from Annapolis' City Dock, Parole also has a rich but less-known history.

The community got its name during the Civil War, when it was the site of a camp for Union soldiers who had been captured by the Confederate army and paroled. The soldiers at Camp Parole waited in wooden barracks until they received their discharge papers and pay.

Years later, farmers moved in and the area became known as the tomato canning capital of Maryland, Hoyle said. Over the years, the community took on a more urban character. It is now a racially diverse area with a mix of homes and businesses.

William Brown, 85, who has lived in Parole since 1928, recalled that the community had a racetrack that was a hot spot in the 1930s and 1940s.

The boarded-up Parole Plaza now stands where the racetrack once stood, and Hoyle said she is researching a marker for the site.

Markers are also being considered near the sites of Parole's rail depot, a stop for trains that ran from Annapolis to Baltimore in the early 1900s, and a post office that served as the area's first fast-food drive-in restaurant.

She is gathering photos of the community's baseball and basketball teams from the 1940s and 1950s for a marker about a popular recreational area, now the site of the J.F. Johnson Lumber Co.

Haughton said she believes the markers will boost community pride, reminding future generations of its history.

"It'll be something the Parole community will be proud of because they're trying to maintain their community," she said. "This will be one way of really sharing and telling the stories to the generation to come."

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