Cabin John’s rich history was recognized at the national level this month when the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced their selection of the Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall site as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2021.
“Saving the Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Hall site is how we make good on promises to expand our infrastructure in an equitable way without further destruction of communities of color,” said Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer, National Trust for Historic Preservation on announcing the list June 3.
In referencing the original Beltway construction in the 1960s, Malone-France went on to note that “past disregard for the heritage of the community of Gibson Grove in transportation projects has already resulted in the loss of an important part of our full American story. This endangered listing challenges us to do the right thing today as we expand our infrastructure, so there will be no additional wrong to correct in the future, and it also calls attention to the threats facing African American cemeteries across the country.”
Friends of Moses Hall, a coalition of neighbors, descendants, and others experienced in archaeology, genealogy, historic preservation, research, and advocacy have been working tirelessly to lead the effort to save this Cabin John treasure by advocating that any Beltway expansion avoid the cemetery and by working to preserve the site. Having the property recognized at the national level brings critical attention to this irreplaceable site and further supports these efforts.
On May 12, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced a new scaled-back version of its Beltway expansion plan. The new recommended preferred alternative (RPA) focuses solely on “building a new American Legion Bridge and delivering two high occupancy toll (HOT) managed lanes in each direction on Phase 1 South: American Legion Bridge I-270 to I-370 with no action at this time on I-495 east of the I-270 eastern spur,” according to MDOT.
The new RPA will be the focus of a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement anticipated to be published in September. The Supplemental DEIS will trigger a 45-day period for public comment, including a public hearing.
The new RPA also has led to changes in the timeline for the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 process for the project. Friends of Moses Hall, the CJCA, and other consulting parties have been told by the State Highway Administration (SHA) that they will update the limits of construction and development disturbance to reflect the new RPA as well as to include design minimization efforts on the historic Gibson Grove Church and Moses Cemetery and Hall properties.
The state’s latest archaeological report on the cemetery site was released on May 25 and acknowledges that there is evidence of burials within or adjacent to the current Beltway right-of-way, warranting additional archaeological investigations and the incorporation of mitigation options, including the relocation of remains.
Advocacy efforts by Friends of Moses Hall are not limited to saving the cemetery from ground disturbances at the site. The group believes the state is giving short shrift to environmental impacts and past racial injustice. This is an ongoing effort that will call on the SHA to right past wrongs.
One very positive step for the community is the collective push from consulting parties and Montgomery County Planning for a pedestrian connection between the historic Gibson Grove Church building and the Moses Cemetery and Hall site. SHA has agreed to include a new sidewalk between the two resources as well as a widened path on the east side of Seven Locks, within the state right-of-way. Seven Locks is a county road, so any improvements outside the state right-of-way are the responsibility of Montgomery County.
All of this is part of a broader effort to renew the physical connection between these historic properties. Perhaps a Gibson Grove Community historic district designation could be a reality one day?
By Charlotte Troup Leighton
CJCA Vice President for Advocacy