Before Montgomery County Parks can put a $100,000 federal grant to use by building a museum at Josiah Henson Park, it must get approval on a unique agreement with the National Park Service.
The NPS awarded Montgomery County the grant, part of its “Save America’s Treasures” program, in 2009. The county wants to use the money to help build a museum that would explore the life of Josiah Henson, the slave who lived on the site and whose 1849 autobiography became the inspiration for the landmark novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
But because the county owns the land, it can not legally be both the grantor and grantee of a historic property easement, which the NPS requires as part of the grant.
So the County Planning Board on Thursday, Jan. 10 will review a special agreement between all parties involved in the North Bethesda park. The covenant would require the county’s Historic Preservation Commission to maintain, repair and administer the property “in a manner satisfactory to the Secretary of the Interior,” thus giving NPS some input into the management of the property.
Planning Department staff is recommending going through with the agreement, as it “promotes the long-term survival of the property,” and “is necessary under the terms of the Save America’s Treasures Grant.”
The county bought the property, known as the Riley Home for the family that once owned the farm, for $1 million in 2006. Henson lived on the farm as a slave.
But controversy ensued when historians discovered Henson had never lived in the old cabin on the site. It was built after Henson had left the farm. His slave quarters had long been demolished. The Parks Department issued a series of corrections and clarifications that pointed out the county would have bought the property even with that knowledge.
The park, once known as Uncle Tom’s Cabin Special Park, is now known as Josiah Henson Park.