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50 States of Preservation: Southern Maryland Studies Center at the College of Southern Maryland, in La Plata, MD

May 31, 2017
The crowing of Queen Nicotina at the Charles County Fair, circa 1955.
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The crowning of Queen Nicotina at the Charles County Fair, circa 1955.  Before the state of Maryland paid farmers to stop producing tobacco in 1999, it had been the main cash crop in the region since the 1600s.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Thomas and Maxine Headen Collection.

This feature is part of a series we call “50 States of Preservation,” in which we are touring small and mid-sized museums, libraries, historical societies, and other repositories across the country to show how they are helping to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage.  Read other entries in the series here.

Nearly every year since 1931, Maryland’s Charles County Fair has crowned a “Queen Nicotina,” an homage to the state’s main cash crop from the 1600s through the 1990s.  Aside from tobacco, Maryland’s “Western Shore” was long known for its crabs and oysters, and steamboat routes dotted the Chesapeake Bay and the area’s large rivers.  In the 1960s, Freedom Riders gathered for songs after protests and sit-ins along Charles County’s main highway.  And the works of engraver and publisher Theodore de Bry (1528-1598) are some of the earliest images of America from a European perspective. 

book cover illustration, man in parka
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An illustrated history magazine called Golden Legacy depicting Matthew Henson’s life in comic book style is held in the rare books collection. Matthew Alexander Henson was born in Charles County, Maryland on August 8th, 1866. He was the first African-American Arctic explorer, and was among the party including four Inuit men that first reached the Geographic North Pole.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland.
black and white photo of people onstage
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Freedom Riders gather to sing freedom songs following a day of protests and sit-ins along Crain Highway (Route 301), the main highway in Charles County, in April 1962.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Thomas and Maxine Headen Collection.

A border state, Maryland’s history is long and complex, including lucrative tobacco farming; relations between whites, slaves, and free people of color; major events in the Civil War era; and segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.  The Southern Maryland Studies Center (SMSC), founded at the College of Southern Maryland in La Plata in 1976, illuminates the region’s rich history.

world war two poster
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During World War II, the Naval Powder Factory in Indian Head, Maryland produced smokeless powder for use in firearms and artillery.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Michael Mazzeo Collection.
photo of election pins
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Various election memorabilia from the Senator Bernie Fowler Collection, a Calvert County politician at the local and state level.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Senator Bernie Fowler Collection.

NEH grants have supported SMSC in preserving 225 unique archival collections spanning from 1493 to the present.  These include hundreds of feet of manuscript material, thousands of photographs, hundreds of oral histories, and maps, architectural drawings, oversized prints, books, microfilms, periodicals, and reference files.  “NEH grant funds made it possible for us to replace the wire-rack shelving that housed our oversize material with more stable, secure shelving that will protect our collections of maps, oversize ledgers, and other large-format materials from long-term damage,” explains SMSC Coordinator Anna Kephart.  “The shelving will also give us additional storage space to add new materials to our collections.” 

map from 1493
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The oldest items in the repository include multiple Theodore de Bry engravings on the founding of Maryland and Virginia. The Hansen-Holdman Collection consists of 27- 16th and 17th Century engraving plates and hand cut woodcuts by Theodore de Bry, Martin Waldseemueller, Abraham Ortelius, and Hartmann Schedel. These images depict some of the earliest images of America and reflect the European perception of the New World in that era.  This is a map of Europe, dated 1493.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Hansen-Holdmann Collection.
photo of books open on a table
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The Charles County Garden Club, dedicated to gardening and good citizenship, has sponsored numerous civic and horticultural projects, from the preservation of a 300 year old tree to flower shows. The collection consists of 9 Club scrapbooks and some pamphlets spanning 1938-1997. The scrapbooks are filled with mixed materials that include newspaper clippings, photographs, flower show ephemera and awards, annual reports, Club directories, correspondence, and event information.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Charles County Garden Club Collection.

SMSC’s collections document the agriculture, business practices, industry development, politics, culture, and individual experiences of Southern Maryland since its very beginnings.  Seventeenth-century prints by Theodore de Bry illustrate some of the earliest English settlements in North America.  The Stone Family Papers date back to 1789 and document the prominent Port Tobacco family, including Declaration of Independence signer Thomas Stone and Judge Frederick Stone, the lawyer and congressman who defended Mary Surratt, Samuel Mudd, and David E. Harold over their role in the Lincoln assassination.  A genealogical collection has 119 boxes of materials documenting hundreds of Southern Maryland families.  And some 4,000 photographic negatives donated by Thomas and Maxine Headen depict life in Charles County in the 1950s and 1960s, including images of historic homes, Civil Rights protests, education, and social events.

black and white photo of children standing on platform
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Crowning of the May Queen, Port Tobacco School, circa 1955

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Thomas and Maxine Headen Collection.
black and white photo of a sailboat
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Black and white photograph of a sailboat built by Francis Raymond “Peg Leg” Hayden.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Hayden Photographic Collection.

The SMSC’s NEH grants reflect steady preservation efforts.  A 2008 Preservation Assistance Grant funded consultation with a professional conservator to develop a preservation plan, train staff and volunteers, and save the collections from light damage.  NEH awards in 2011 and 2016 supported replacement of the wire shelving that was damaging the collections with proper archival storage units.  “We are so grateful for the opportunity to preserve these invaluable materials for future generations,” says Kephart, “and to have the additional storage capacity to take in more collections!”

poem on parchment
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Poem, "Bait for Gentlemen"

 

Open slowly
Do not fear
There is no hook
To catch you here

 

But a pair of dark
And sparkling eyes
Which gentlemen
So highly prize

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, Jason Chiarizia Collection.
Newspaper headline reading "destroyer!"
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Maryland Independent, Special Edition, May 1st, 2002

 

Headline after the historic 2002 La Plata tornado that damaged or destroyed a variety of county landmarks on April 28th.

Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland.

Funding information

The College of Southern Maryland, La Plata has received NEH support through Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions, PG-50237-08, PG-51098-11, and PG-233008-16.