‘One of a kind’: Preservation Howard County President Fred Dorsey gets lifetime achievement award

Anyone arriving late to Preservation Howard County’s annual celebration would have heard Fred Dorsey praising the many community activists honored by the nonprofit over the years.

What they would have missed in the longtime president’s speech on Sept. 15 at Waverly Mansion was that he had just been surprised with a lifetime achievement award recognizing his role in preserving Howard County’s history and heritage to boisterous applause and a standing ovation.

Organizers had resorted to secrecy because they were convinced Dorsey, 82, would wriggle his way out of accepting the award otherwise, humbly deflecting credit to those he deemed more deserving.

In impromptu remarks after receiving the award, Dorsey stressed that if he weren’t “able to stand on the shoulders of the 18 years of preservationists we’ve awarded, I wouldn’t be here accepting everyone’s gratitude.”

“To the board of directors, it’s a time that’s been the joy of my life,” he said.

The framed certificate was bestowed by state Sen. Clarence Lam on behalf of the Howard County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

In another surprise, Dorsey’s son-in-law, Jeff Bronow, chief of the research division of the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, presented him with a proclamation from County Executive Calvin Ball designating Sept. 15, 2019, as Fred Dorsey Day.

Preservation Howard County board member Barbara Kellner also gave Dorsey an award on behalf of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

Preservation Howard County is known for its annual list of endangered historic sites and corresponding recommendations for their restoration and potential adaptive uses.

This year’s list of eight sites includes Mt. Ida, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, Simpsonville Mill Race, Thomas Viaduct, Troy Hill, Columbia Exhibit Center, Columbia South Entrance Bridge and Ellicott City Jail.

Dorsey told the crowd he didn’t want his recognition to overshadow that of 2019 Preservationist of the Year winners John Slater, John Byrd and Ian Kennedy, whom they’d gathered to honor.

Slater was given the Sen. James Clark Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on getting the Patapsco Valley Heritage Area designation and preserving the Thomas Viaduct in Elkridge; Byrd, who retired in June as director of the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks, was honored for stewardship of the county’s historic buildings; and Kennedy, executive director of the Downtown Columbia Art and Culture Commission, was honored for grassroots leadership resulting in the redevelopment of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Preservation Howard County was founded in 2000 by Dorsey and Mary Catherine Cochran, the nonprofit’s president emeritus, and Preservationist of the Year awards were first handed out in 2002.

In her remarks at the afternoon event in Marriottsville, Cochran compared Dorsey’s work ethic to that of “a steady, steely-eyed cowboy . . . the kind that would hate this moment” because of its focus on him.

Dorsey, president of the preservation group since 2011, compiles the annual lists of endangered sites and reviews nominations for preservationist awards, which are “the two bookends of the organization and its biggest initiatives,” Cochran said after the event.

“Fred knows that by recognizing others, he’s elevating everyone’s work on historic preservation,” she said.

Martha Clark, owner of Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City and a board member since the nonprofit’s inception, described Preservation Howard County as “a small but mighty group.”

“Fred does 90% of the work and the rest of us help and encourage him,” she said. “He’s the Energizer Bunny and he responds to any request that comes in, whether someone wants information on a historic house, help in tracing blood lines or to report discovery of a gravestone behind their house.”

Other organizations in which Dorsey actively participates include the Howard County Genealogical Society, the Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board, Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, Historic Preservation Advocates, Harriet Tubman Community and Cultural Center Council, and the Belmont Manor Citizens Advisory Committee. He also gives historical tours, talks and multimedia presentations.

Bessie Bordenave, president of the Harriet Tubman Foundation of Howard County, wanted to give Dorsey an award last year for his efforts to transform the former all-black Harriet Tubman High School in Columbia into a cultural and educational center, but Dorsey didn’t believe he was deserving of the accolade and declined.

“Fred is a wonderful, knowledgeable and caring person,” Bordenave said. “Whenever we held hearings, we could always count on Fred to testify on our behalf. He’s not going to take you halfway down the road; he’s going to get you to your destination. He’s one of a kind.”

Beth Burgess, chief of the resource planning division of the county’s planning and zoning department, has worked closely with Dorsey since starting her job in 2012.

“Fred is this amazing worker bee who’s always reaching out and always showing up,” she said.

For instance, Dorsey compiled binders of information on preservation issues for the new county executive and the new Howard County Council that took office in 2018.

“Fred quotes in his binder that more than 221 buildings have been demolished in Howard County between 2008 and 2017, of which 129 were historic structures,” Burgess said. “He sees the practical nature of retaining historic buildings, knowing there can always be adaptive reuse, and he advocates directly with the building owners.”

Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland since 2014, said he got to know Dorsey in 2016 after the first of two catastrophic and deadly floods hit historic Main Street within two years.

“Fred is steadfast, extremely humble . . . and a man of uncommon character in an increasingly self-aggrandizing world. We could use more Fred Dorseys,” he said.

Kay Dorsey, Dorsey’s wife of 58 years, said she believes the magnitude of the appreciation shown to her husband hadn’t completely sunk in for him.

“I had been nervous about keeping this a secret,” she said. “It was fun to see everyone, and that instantaneous standing ovation for Fred with all the whooping and clapping was pretty overwhelming.”

The day after the celebration, Dorsey gave credit to the late Joetta Cramm, a local author whom he calls “the county’s unofficial historian,” for sparking his interest in historic preservation.

“We worked together for 13 years and we shared a great bond,” he said.

Dorsey listed Preservation Howard County’s current priorities: Expansion of oversight of the county’s Historic Preservation Commission; planning for Lawyers Hill, a historic property he said is suffering from “demolition by neglect”; an update of regulations and closing of loopholes for development proposals that affect any of the county’s 72 scenic roads; and restoration and adaptive use of the former Ellicott City Jail.

Preservation Howard County is also advocating for the future of three historic homes, Dorsey said.

They are: Athol, built in 1730 and situated on Martin Road; the Pue-Fulton House, built in 1865 off Old Columbia Pike in Dorsey’s Ridge and added onto in 1905; and Wildwood, built in the mid-1700s and located across from the Kings Contrivance Village Center.

“We’re interested in who the next owners will be and what will happen with these properties,” he said.

As for Dorsey continuing on as Preservation Howard County president, that appears to be a given.

“I’ve always just agreed to stay on another year,” he said.

BALTIMORE SUN MEDIA |  SEP 23, 2019  |  Link

Anne Arundel County’s Citizen Preservation Stewardship Program

  • November 1, 2019
  • News

We need your help documenting the current condition of cemeteries in Anne Arundel County. Anne Arundel has the largest number of known cemeteries in Maryland as well as the oldest known tombstones.

Up until the 20th century, it was common to establish a small family cemetery on private land. Unfortunately, unchecked development and vandalism has destroyed above ground traces of these important cultural resources. Small family cemeteries hold an important place in the fabric of our communities, and the names found on the headstones are often found as the names to nearby roads or geographic features. These cemeteries represent the resting place of those who made Anne Arundel County the place it is today. In order to preserve these cues to the past, and respect the last resting place of our ancestors, County regulations do not allow cemeteries to be moved from their original location. To find out more and to sign up, visit www.aacounty.org/cemeteries.  [Download the flyer and share with your community]

Learning in the Field

  • September 2, 2019
  • News

Coalition member, Dennis Green, lends a hand and gets some hands-on experience extracting corroded pins from unstable gravestones!

Quick Fixes Do Not Fix

  • September 2, 2019
  • News

This is one of the reasons that the Coalition does not encourage ‘quick fix’ techniques, methods, and materials for gravestone repair. This synthetic adhesive/epoxy, (Akeme) was applied 15 years ago according to oral reports. It had failed within the past five years and placed upon the base with the bottom fragment. Failure was contributed by water retention and UV intolerance and instability. Note the bright white areas of the marble stone which are soft and sugaring as a result of water and salts being trapped and moisture being retained. When synthetic adhesive materials fail, that take part of the masonry substrate with it and enhance as well as cause further damage which contradicts “Do no harm”. They also do not last as long, on average 20 years, but some are seeing less than 15 like this repair. Good intentions, but very costly not only in regards the fiscal cost to repair the stone again, but to the loss of some of the masonry substrate which could have been prevented. The Coalition advocates the consultation of actual, qualified, professionals and does not charge a fee to anyone that approaches the organization for guidance, assistance and support. All are welcome to attend our board meetings as well as correspond with any of our members both on and off the board. To avoid good-intentioned mistakes like this one, request a copy of the Coalitions Cemetery Stewardship Guide, it will explain in more detail the does and don’ts cemetery care and gravestone repair or simply post or submit and inquiry. There is no such a thing as a dumb and or stupid question. The Coalition to Protect Maryland Sites is here to support, advocate, educate, and help rehabilitate anything and everything that pertains to Maryland Cemeteries.

Maryland senator to withdraw bill that would allow development at Pikesville cemetery


A state senator said he would withdraw an obscure bill that sought to undo a 2013 Maryland Court of Appeals decision blocking development at a Pikesville cemetery.

Residents who years ago went to court to stop a housing proposal at Druid Ridge Cemetery had cried foul over the legislation, which was introduced late in the General Assembly session by a state senator from Montgomery County.

Community members questioned why Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Democrat who represents the Washington suburbs, would sponsor a bill affecting a piece of property in Baltimore County. They said the legislation re-opened a dispute they thought long settled.

David B. Shapiro, a former state delegate and now president of the Dumbarton Improvement Association, which represents a neighborhood near the cemetery, called the legislation “a last-minute bill that was slipped in.”

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Historical African-American significance found in one local cemetery in Carroll County

WBAL-TV 11 – Jennifer Franciotti, News Anchor, Reporter

In Carroll County, there’s a cemetery that people drive by every day and may not know its historic significance.

Ellsworth Cemetery was created in the 1800s, out of a need to serve the black community.

“We might not always be proud of our past, but we must remember it and honor what we have here,” said Audrey Cimino, executive director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County.

Along Route 140, next to WaWa in Westminster, is a piece of history that’s little known, even to those who have relatives buried here.

“I’ve been all up and down the streets and i didn’t even know that cemetery existed,” said Gen. Linda Singh.

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New Legislation Seeks To Protect Lost African-American Burial Grounds

David Anderson, FORBES Contributor

When new construction projects break ground across the United States, they regularly encounter archaeological materials. Those materials can represent the last surviving trace of the lives lived by the people who made them; and all too often, those materials turn out to be from cemeteries and burial grounds used by segregated and enslaved African American communities. These cemeteries typically went undocumented on local and state government maps and graves were often only marked ephemerally, thus making these spaces all but invisible in the present day.

In just the past year, construction projects and archaeological surveys have encountered numerous examples of undocumented African American burial grounds across the country. Archaeological testing encountered the remains of a 19th century African American burial ground in Philadelphia; construction crews in Fort Bend County, Texas, discovered nearly 100 unmarked graves of African American prison inmates believed to have been forced to work in sugar fields long after emancipation was declared; and, archaeologists working for the Maryland Department of Transportation uncovered a previously unknown slave cemetery in Crownsville, Maryland.

These are just a handful of examples of the many times in which the lives and eternal resting places of African Americans were “lost” to written history. The stories of their lives, however, have not been lost for good. With dedicated effort, archaeological and archival research can help to reclaim the past and fill in the gaps left in our history books.

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15-Year Effort to Document County Cemeteries Uncovers 50 New Sites

County Planning Board to review new guidelines to preserve burial grounds
By Caitlynn Peetz  |  Bethesda Magazine | Published February 13, 2019

A first-of-its-kind search for Montgomery County cemeteries uncovered more than 50 previously undocumented burial grounds, and county planners have new guidelines to preserve them.

The draft guidelines, set for review by the county Planning Board next week, outline requirements for retaining existing cemeteries in their original location unless approved for relocation by the Planning Board.

The guidelines come after a 15-year volunteer effort to identify burial sites.

“Cemeteries are significant and important cultural resources in Montgomery County,” the report says. “Preservation of these unique archaeological resources will further protect the cultural heritage of Montgomery County.”

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Planning commission recommends historic designation for Nanjemoy church cemetery

Maryland Independent – By Paul Lagasse, February 4, 2019

The Charles County Planning Commission voted unanimously last week to recommend that the county commissioners approve a local historic landmark designation for a cemetery in Nanjemoy that dates back to the mid-19th century.

In December, the county Historic Preservation Commission determined that the cemetery of the Mt. Hope Baptist Church on Gilroy Road met the criteria outlined in the county’s zoning ordinance for sites of local historical and cultural significance, which requires that it have “character, interest, or value as part of the development, heritage, or culture of the County, State, or Nation.”

Sea level rise imperils historic grave site on Eastern Shore of Maryland

If Joe Fehrer hadn’t stumbled across the grave site, it might never have been found. 

Flanked by an encroaching marsh, it sits a half mile walk from the nearest road through water that threatens to flow over the tops of mud boots. 

On a sunny Friday morning on the way to the site in the Robinson Neck preserve on Taylors Island, Fehrer tests the water depth with a well-worn staff. 

“This channel is too deep to cross,” he says, looping back to chart a new course.

His mission for the day was to measure and record information about a group of historic graves located inside the Nature Conservancy’s preserve in Dorchester County, Maryland.

Dating predominantly from the early 19th century, a cluster of family gravestones peaks out of the wooded ground at the edge of the marsh. 

Some are sunken but some still stand tall after a couple hundred years.

Last year he relocated the site.

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