Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum now boasts a replica of the one-room log cabin that the African-American scientist built and lived in on his western Baltimore County farm.
Officials formally opened the 224-square-foot cabin Thursday on the park grounds in Catonsville, two days before the 278th anniversary of Banneker's birth. The home furthers efforts to educate the public about this significant figure in local, state and national history whose accomplishments included helping to survey the land that became the nation's capital.
"This is built not far from the original cabin site that burned down in 1806," said Ray Clark, vice president of the Friends of Benjamin Banneker. "We want it to be an educational experience for people to get a feeling for the lifestyle."
The cabin "will help us better appreciate the context of Banneker's life and to see how a great mind lived and worked," said County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who called Banneker a trailblazer who revolutionized the scientific thought of his era.
At a time when many African-Americans were enslaved, this self-educated freeman showed us that "the brilliance of the human mind has no relation to the color of one's skin," Smith said.
Del. Adrienne Jones, former officer of the friends group, recalled how the same dreary fall weather marked the groundbreaking for the museum in 1996, and she found the rain a fitting backdrop to honor a man known for writing almanacs. The county legislative delegation secured a $400,000 state bond for the design and construction of the cabin.
"Our research was done with insistence that this cabin be as historically correct as possible," said Bill Lambert, president of the group that includes Gwen Marable, a Banneker descendant.
"I can't wait to bring children into the cabin," she said.
An actor clad in period costume took on Banneker's persona and spoke in a sonorous voice of one man's lifelong quest for knowledge.
He welcomed the crowd past the cabin's thick oak door into a sparsely furnished room with a stone fireplace.
"Thanks to all who have kept my name alive and therefore kept me alive," said Bill Grimmette, who started playing the role at the Smithsonian in 1992.
Grimmette will resume the role Saturday during the museum's birthday party for its namesake.
"His life is a treasure trove of history that offers a fascinating story," he said.