Friend’s History

The Friends of the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum is a non-profit entity established to support the Park and Museum. Community and civic involvement has been vital to the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum. Following the 1972 publication of The Life of Benjamin Banneker by Silvio Bedini, a science historian at the Smithsonian Institution, 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 and 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 leadership of Friends President Cynthia de Jesus, retired government employee, and site Naturalist/Director Melanie Dance:

  • Education Programming for schools, homeschool groups, scouts, other groups, adults and families related to history, the environment, astronomy;
  • Special exhibits—Banneker quilt; From Galileo to Banneker to Hubble; From Banneker to Douglass: The Quests for Freedom and Equality;
  • Special events—Colonial Market Fair, Kwanza Celebration, African American Firsts in Baltimore County; Annual Summer Jazz Concert Series; Juneteenth; Banneker Birthday Celebration; Annual Earth Day Celebration; Annual Summer Solstice Adult Education Program;
  • Banneker Discovery Camp—summer day camp for elementary students;
  • Community Involvement—Oella Community Garden; Holiday Toy Drive; Relay Food Host Site; Banneker Gift Shop;
  • Development of the Banneker Farmstead with a replica cabin, Colonial herb and vegetable gardens, Banneker orchard;
  • Development of amenities including 6 miles of hiking trails, pollinator garden, nature play space, turtle habitat, arboretum.