Following the Silvio Bedini’s 1972 publication of The Life of Benjamin Banneker, John McGrain, the Baltimore County Historian, with the assistance of Lenwood Johnson, a County Planner, located Banneker’s farm in Oella, a community between Catonsville and Ellicott City, Maryland. In 1977 the Catonsville Historical Society underwrote the film The Man Who Loved the Stars starring Ossie Davis as Banneker. In 1985 Baltimore County purchased the property. Community members including Jean Walsh, editor of the Catonsville Times, Charles Wagandt, a developer in Oella, and Sam Hopkins, an Ellicott descendant, formed a Friends group that was a member of the Catonsville Recreation and Parks Council.
The Friends arranged for archaeological digs by the Maryland Historical Trust, lobbied for state funding for the construction of a visitor’s center, and worked with architects to make the visitor’s center a museum. In 1998 the Museum opened and the Friends group became incorporated as the Friends of Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, Inc., a non-profit organization and an independent Recreation and Parks council. Additional lobbying by the Friends helped obtain funds for the construction of a permanent Banneker exhibit, renovation of a house now known as the Bannaky/Trueth House and a reconstructed colonial cabin. Adrienne Jones, a Maryland House Delegate and former Friends vice president, spearheaded the efforts to obtain state funds. The following are some of the various activities offered under the of Friends Leadership and the Park Management:
- Education Programming related to history, the environment, and astronomy for a variety of groups;
- Special exhibits including “Banneker Quilts,” “From Galileo to Banneker to Hubble,” and “From Banneker to Douglass: The Quests for Freedom and Equality;”
- Special events including the Kwanza Celebration, African American Firsts in Baltimore County, Annual Summer Jazz Concert Series, Juneteenth, Banneker Birthday Celebration, Annual Earth Day Celebration, and the Annual Summer Solstice Adult Education Program;
- Banneker Discovery Camp: a summer day camp for elementary students;
- Community Involvement including the Oella Community Garden and Holiday Toy Drive;
- Development of the Banneker Farmstead with a replica cabin, Colonial herb and vegetable gardens, and orchard;
- Development of amenities including 6 miles of hiking trails, pollinator garden, nature play space, and turtle habitat.
The Friends Founders
Baltimore County’s official historian. Until his discovery (1976) of the actual land records for Banneker’s property, the exact location of the Banneker farmstead was not known. It was Mr. McGrain’s discovery that led to the archaeological investigation of the area, which uncovered two foundations of Banneker family cabins.
One of the founders and original members of The Friends of Benjamin Banneker Historical Park. A noted Catonsville historian and newspaper editor, Ms. Walsh was among the earliest voices for the establishment of the Banneker Historical Park.
A descendant of the Dickey family who owned the Oella Mill. Mr. Wagandt stimulated and encouraged community and government interest in the purchase of the property for honoring Benjamin Banneker.
A former Baltimore County employee, he represented the interest of Baltimore County Government and helped spearhead the County’s acquisition of the land parcels that formerly comprised the Banneker homestead. Mr. Kugelberg also served on the board of the Maryland Greenways Commission, which worked with state agencies, local governments, land trusts, and citizens to form a system of interconnecting recreational trails and wildlife corridors that link protective buffers along Maryland’s waterways.
A descendant of George Ellicott, donated his energies, community development knowledge, and long hours of involvement to help bring the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum into existence. For more information click here.
Formerly a member of the board for many years until she was elected to the Maryland State House of Delegates for the 10th Legislative District. She worked diligently to help get state funding for the Banneker Historical Park.