Moses Hall Fieldwork Underway As State Moves Forward With Beltway Plans
The State Highway Administration started to clear bamboo in mid-January at the Morningstar Moses Hall & Cemetery site as part of additional field investigations required under the
environmental review process tied to Gov. Hogan’s Beltway expansion plans.
But even though the final environmental impact statement is not expected until the fall, on Jan. 27 Maryland highway officials announced their pick for a plan to expand I-495 and I-270 that would add four toll lanes to each roadway. As currently envisioned, the plan also would include a managed lane flyover access ramp at River Road that would cross Seven Locks Rd. and encroach on the Moses Hall property.
Furthermore, the Maryland Department of Transportation expects to choose a predevelopment contractor for the multibillion-dollar project this month. While it’s still too early to know what these choices might mean for Cabin John, the Moses Hall property is already dealing with a number of issues driven by the state’s Beltway expansion efforts.
The Cabin John Citizens Association will host a Zoom meeting Feb. 24 at 7:30pm to provide an update on the state’s expansion plans and all the work going into preserving the Moses Hall property. Please look for a CJCA email with the Zoom meeting link a few days before the meeting.
Reconstituting Morningstar Tabernacle Number 88, Inc.
A critical piece to protecting the Moses Hall property has been to reestablish an ownership entity.
In 1885 Cabin John’s African American community established Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88, a local branch of the Ancient United Order of Brothers and Sisters, Sons and Daughters of Moses, a black fraternal organization created by Peter Paul Brown in 1868 in Pennsylvania.
Most of this small community, early on known as Gibson Grove and later as simply No. 10, belonged to Morningstar 88. It built the Moses Hall lodge, a two-story structure, on land formally conveyed to Morningstar Moses 88 by John D.W. Moore in 1901. (Earlier in 1887 George and wife Surilla— aka Cyrilla—Scott had conveyeda portion of their land to Morningstar 88 to create a small “road” to reach the burial site and hall.)
Like other benevolent societies in this era, Morningstar 88 played a critical role in the post-Emancipation era by providing to its members funds in case of illness, education to orphans,
and, uniquely in Montgomery County, a burial place for its members not requiring specific church affiliation. (While most of its members were part of the local Gibson Grove AME Zion Church, there were some who belonged to area Baptist churches.) Morningstar’s Moses Hall was not only used for lodge meetings, it also served as a social center for the community and at times housed the Cabin John School for black children.
By the mid-1990s, the need for Morningstar 88 dwindled as insurance and other services became more available to the community, but lodge members continued to be buried in the Morningstar Moses Cemetery well into the 1970s. Over time, however, Morningstar 88 became defunct.
Moses Hall descendants and volunteers have worked diligently with pro bono counsel over the past year to appoint substitute trustees to reestablish the ownership entity, address tax issues, and bring it in good standing with the state. The three substitute trustees are Moses Hall descendant Austin E. White of Carver Rd., local preservationist Eileen McGuckian, and archeologist
Dr. Alexandra Jones. They will work to establish by-laws and add trustees while moving forward with meaningful preservation and advocacy efforts for this historic site.
Ensuring the State’s Fieldwork Does No Harm
Most immediately, this effort enabled trustees to appear at the Dec. 29 court hearing to request that the state’s attorney more carefully define and limit the state highway administration’s
(SHA) access and work at this sensitive site.
As part of the environmental assessment, the SHA must complete additional field investigations, monitored by an on-site archaeologist, within the Limits of Disturbance (LOD) area of the potential Beltway expansion. A number of known burial sites and the foundation of the hall — the only known physical remains of an Order of Moses Hall in Montgomery County — fall within the LOD.
To complete its investigations, the state must first remove the bamboo from the property. As of early February, the cutting was well underway, but the state still needed to work out the complicated logistics for removal of the cut bamboo from the property. Beltway lane closures will be required for the project. The cemetery and hall site is currently closed to the public.
Friends of Moses Hall Continues Its Preservation Efforts
Friends of Moses Hall, a group comprised of descendants of Moses Hall, historic preservationists, and Cabin John community members, has been working tirelessly since fall 2019 to preserve and protect the property. In 2020, the Cabin John Citizens Association provided $2,000 to haul away mounds of debris cleared by volunteers.
With the state now required to clear out the remaining bamboo on the property so that its assessment can continue, Friends of Moses Hall is focusing on ensuring the bamboo does not grow
back. The group brought in a landscaper that does bamboo remediation. He expects it will take several years of treatments to fully eradicate the bamboo. The cost estimate for the first year of treatment exceeds $4,000.
In late January, Friends of Moses Hall received a $3,000 Trader Foundation grant from the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites. This grant money is earmarked for bamboo remediation and to cover filing fees to bring Morningstar 88 Moses Hall in good standing with the state.
In the coming months Friends of Moses Hall, the Cabin John Citizens Association, and others will be working with the SHA and the private contractors it selects to avoid and mitigate
impacts to the property as part of the next phase of the environmental process.
Please visit Friends of Moses Hall’s recently launched website www.friendsofmoseshall.org to learn more about Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Hall and the ongoing efforts to preserve
and protect this historic treasure in Cabin John.
By Charlotte Troup Leighton
CJCA Vice President for Advocacy