Week Two #Explorethereserve: The Historic African-American Community of Sugarland
With Halloween behind us and our clocks set back an hour, we are now firmly in the fall season. Leaves rattle in the trees and crunch underfoot. We notice our breath gusting out in puffs of personal fog against the crisp air. Check the weather forecast and bundle up, because there is plenty to enjoy in the Ag Reserve year round.
Welcome to #explorethereserve week two! This community project will highlight weekly locations with ideas for getting off screens and heading outside to improve mental and physical health, explore our corner of MoCo, and provide inspiration for COVID-safe adventures in and near the Ag Reserve.
Click here to learn more about this #explorethereserve project, the Agricultural Reserve, and tips for safety and comfort. Check out other #explorethereserve adventures linked at the bottom of this post.
This week, travel with me down the rustic roads outside of Poolesville to a very special place, the historic African-American community of Sugarland. After the abolition of slavery in Maryland, this town was founded by formerly enslaved people whose hard work and ingenuity would create a vibrant and close-knit community.
In the 20th century and beyond, Sugarland continued to break ground in surprising ways. It was home to the first interracial marriage in Montgomery County, the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture holds Sugarland photos in its collection, and St, Paul church was the site for filming part of an Oscar-nominated movie.
Before starting your exploration this week, I strongly suggest that you take the time to learn more about Sugarland’s history and community members so you can better appreciate its beauty and importance once you visit–please check out the Dig Deeper section of this post.
Options & Ideas for #explorethereserve Week Two, Sugarland:
- Begin our journey by turning off eastbound Route 107 in Dawsonville onto Sugarland Road. As you drive, notice the farms and fields of the Ag Reserve surrounding you, their crops and animals tuned to the passing of the seasons. As you pass Homestead Farm on your right (closed for the winter), keep following Sugarland Road as it curves right. (Turning left onto Montevideo Road will take you to Rocklands Farm.) Observe the bare orchards, pumpkin fields, and wind turbine behind Homestead’s fence. As you pass farms, notice the animals–you may see pygmy goats, sheep, cows, and horses.
- Just before a small bridge crossing the Dry Seneca Creek, there are 2 small trail markers on each shoulder of the road. These are part of the Dry Seneca Creek Trail, part of the EPIC organization. Park your car off the shoulder and stretch your legs if you like. Montgomery County’s Seneca Creek was home to many mills in the 18th and 19th centuries.
- Sugarland Road will cross Partnership Road, bringing you into the community, now comprised of colorful cottages, ranch houses, and grand horse farms set in rolling fields and old forests. At the intersection of Sugarland Road and Sugarland Lane, park at St. Paul’s Community Church, now home to the Sugarland Ethno History Project and the last remaining public entity of this historic community. Explore the grounds and graveyard of St Paul’s, the final resting place for many community members. Walk west down Sugarland Lane, a dead-end road, noticing the changes to the community–peer over a chain link fence on the right just past the 14220 mailbox and catch a glimpse of an old Sugarland home in the woods. You may like to print or download some of the resource materials listed below or the historic map above and read them on site for a deeper understanding and connection. Imagine Sugarland as it was, with a school, post office, community hall, and other amenities. Reflect on the struggles and the courage of its founders and residents. Appreciate its peaceful and lovely countryside setting.
- Depart north via Sugarland Road, noticing the landscape, wildlife, and ages/styles of homes. At the T with Hughes Road, make a right to head towards Poolesville. Pass the turnoff to Budd Road and continue on Hughes, appreciating the charm of the Sugarland Forest sign.
As you pass through Sugarland and towards Poolesville, imagine turning back the clock to the 20th century, the 19th century, the 18th century, the 17th century, and further back before Poolesville’s European settlement in 1760 to the Manahoac and Piscataway tribes. Who lived here? How did they make their living? What landscapes did they see? Who was their community? What did they believe? History invites us not only to connect with the past but also to consider our own values and experiences.
DIG DEEPER INTO LOCAL HISTORY:
- I Have Started for Canaan: The Story of the African American Town of Sugarland This compelling book contains maps and beautiful historic photos. 100% of proceeds benefit the Sugarland Ethno History Project.
- The Underground Railroad in Montgomery County, Maryland: A History and Driving Guide, Anthony Cohen
Websites and Organizations
- Gwen Reese, Sugarland Ethno History Project President, Historic Ag Reserve Properties interview about growing up in the Ag Reserve
- Heritage Montgomery’s Community Cornerstones brochure of historic African-American churches of Montgomery County
- Heritage Montgomery’s Historic African-American Communities webpage
- Phillip Johnson interview, Federal Writers Project: Learn about the life of a former slave who called Sugarland home.
- Sugarland Ethno History Project: Learn more about Sugarland from this amazing non-profit’s website. Take special note of the 2 history overview PDFs on the Media tab. Consider making a donation to support their important work.
- Monocacy Monocle “History Should Not Be Forgotten” April 26, 2019
- Plenty, “Sugarland” Autumn 2020 (Online version coming soon, hard copies available at businesses throughout the Ag Reserve)
Support Local Businesses
While you’re out and about, help support local businesses by stopping in for a snack or meal. Please check websites before visiting for days/hours of operation. I recommend:
- Locals Farm Market & Cafe Bakery, cafe, and local produce in a historic setting
- Mexican Grill Best Mexican food in MoCo
- Rocklands Farm Historic farm and great picnic spot
- Windridge Vineyards Vino and food trucks with a view
Let’s Keep Exploring!
New adventures will be posted each Wednesday morning here and linked via the Taste Travel Teach FB page.
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Use the hashtag #explorethereserve to share our experiences/photos on social media to inspire others and build community.
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Suggestions for upcoming #explorethereserve adventures? Click on the Contact button here or send a FB message to Christine.
Thanks for reading and taking part in #explorethereserve. I hope you enjoyed learning, exploring, and discovering more about Montgomery County’s Ag Reserve. See you next Wednesday for a new adventure!
ABOUT TASTE TRAVEL TEACH & CHRISTINE RAI:
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- Contact me here about teaching a class, leading a tour, or speaking to your group.
- My current project: I’m finishing up my first book, a sunny guide for positive living featuring my vibrant multimedia art.
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