In my hunt for hidden natural gems in Baltimore County, I read an article about the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Oella, a small town near Catonsville and Ellicott City. I was amazed at the historical significance of this area, and I couldn't wait to visit the museum and walk the trails at the park.
I had learned a bit about Benjamin Banneker in school, but had no idea he was from this area, or that he accomplished such amazing things in his lifetime. According to the Baltimore Sun, in 1998 it was discovered that the land in Oella was in fact the same place on which the Banneker family had lived and established a tobacco farm. The Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum was created on land that was originally bought in 1734 by Banneker's father, Robert.
A plaque on a large rock as you enter the park explains that Robert Banneker purchased the land after selling 7,000 pounds of tobacco grown at his original farm in Elkridge. He was looking for a larger place to farm and raise his growing family. The original plot of land extended from the area in Oella where the park is located across the National Road to the Patapsco River. Robert placed his then 6-year-old son Benjamin's name on the deed. When Robert died in 1759, the property was passed along to Benjamin.
The museum and park do a wonderful job of not only educating the public about the history of the area and Banneker's accomplishments, but also highlighting its natural surroundings. The buildings that have been replicated to match the period of time the farm was cultivated bring you back in time. The museum has many exhibits featuring historical facts about the site as well as accomplishments made by Benjamin Banneker. There is also a collection of artifacts that were used at the time the Bannekers lived at the property, such as lead pencils that were used for writing. There are also donated items from the local Elliot family who were good friends with the Bannekers. The museum has desk and candle molds used by Benjamin.
Behind the museum, there is a small reptile cage featuring spotted turtles, eastern mud turtles and eastern box turtles. There is also a seating area to enjoy a snack or participate in some of the educational activities they host at the park. On the grounds are also several other picnic areas at which visitors can enjoy a nice treat or simply relax and enjoy the natural surroundings.
In the land behind the museum, there is a log cabin that was built to replicate one that the Bannekers would have lived in. Inside the cabin there are examples of furniture, cooking supplies and a sleeping area that would be used in the 1700's. Outside of the cabin is a garden planted to replicate the family garden. A sign on the fence of the garden explains that Benjamin and his mother grew such vegetables to help feed not just their family but the workers on the tobacco farm as well. The fence for the garden was built out of interwoven branches and briers, a technique used at the time to deter animals from feasting on the plants.
As you travel past the log cabin, there are many different access sites to paths that will lead you on hiking trails throughout the property. These trails take you through the wooded terrain of this Piedmont Region. One of the Benjamin Banneker trails leads to the trolley trail, a paved path that runs along the route of the old streetcars or trolleys once used in the Baltimore region. As you traverse the trail, you pass through historic homes and a remote valley and eventually end up in historic Ellicott City. This is a great trail for hiking because of its diverse terrain and historical landmarks.
After you finish taking a tour through the museum and enjoying a picnic lunch and a nice hike, the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and museum will bring you a sense of cultural awareness and an appreciation for the historical significance of Baltimore County.
The Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum is located at 300 Oella Ave., Catonsville, MD 21228.
Kelly Scible is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.