Slavery in Montgomery County

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New archaeological dig focuses on former slave and will determine the future of Josiah Henson Park museum

This house on Old Georgetown Road is being restored to the way it looked during the 1800s.  PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAKThis house on Old Georgetown Road is being restored to the way it looked during the 1800s. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAK  Just a few yards off busy Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda, archaeologists with the County Department of Parks are digging up pottery shards, buttons, thimbles, nails, and animal bones that had been used for various chores such as cooking and sewing as well as toys, all dating back to 18th and 19th centuries.

Isaac Riley owned 275 acres there. He also owned 24 slaves, including Josiah Henson, whose later journal writings became the basis for the character Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

As a young boy, Henson watched his father beaten for trying to stop his wife’s rape by the owner of a plantation, where the family was enslaved in Charles County.

Soon after that, Riley purchased Henson and kept him on the North Bethesda property as a slave until 1830. He later became the overseer for Riley and often took the wheat, barley, and corn crops grown on the property to Georgetown to sell.

While living in Maryland, Henson frequented a nearby church that was for white people only. He stood outside and listened as the preacher led the congregation in prayer and song. He developed a love for Christianity and later became a reverend.  

For several years, he strove to buy his freedom, but Riley “lies to him, tricks him,” said Cassandra Michaud, senior archaeologist for the Parks Department.


It could be a long, hot and very cool summer

for sale sign outside houseDid you know that the first commercial application of air conditioning was in 1902? And yet, residential central A/C didn’t come into its own until the 1960’s. According to the US Department of Energy, air conditioning use skyrocketed in the 1970’s. Since then, A/C units have become more efficient, such that new air conditioners use fifty percent less energy than units from the 1990’s. Additionally, new technologies are making A/C units increasingly environmentally friendly. New developments in air conditioning include non-vapor compression technology, which will be fifty percent more efficient and doesn’t use Hydrofluorocarbons (


County students present views of the past in National History Day contest

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ROCKVILLE — Students from around the County gathered at Richard Montgomery High School Saturday to exhibit their illustrations depicting episodes of conflict throughout U.S. history.

The exhibition was part of a contest for National History Day in which high school and middle school students are encouraged to design projects based on a given historical theme, this year’s being “Conflict and Compromise in History.”


History found at Dietle’s

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A 1916 copy of The Montgomery County Sentinel was found at Dietle’s after a recent fire. A 1916 copy of The Montgomery County Sentinel was found at Dietle’s after a recent fire.  COURTESY PHOTO  While clearing debris after a Feb. 14 fire the nearly destroyed Hank Dietle’s tavern on Rockville Pike, volunteers who have donated time over the last two weeks to clean up the damage to the beloved 102-year-old bar found a 102-year-old copy of the Montgomery County Sentinel.

“When I saw that, I said ‘wow that’s something interesting,’” said John Bennaman, a regular at Dietle’s who has volunteer to help clean up the place after the fire.

The copy of the paper that Bennaman and others found is dated Feb. 18, 1916, the year the bar originally opened on Rockville Pike. Bennaman, a regular at Dietle’s with his father Dennis Bennaman, said he and several others found the paper while clearing debris in Dietle’s basement, which was mostly untouched from the fire that severely damaged the mostly wooden over century old general store opened by Edward Offutt in 1916. The tavern’s namesake Hank Dietle converted the general store into a bar sometime in the 1950s.


Inspiration from the past

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GERMANTOWN Around 200 people came to the Germantown campus of Montgomery College Saturday to learn about different eras of the history of Montgomery County. The 12th Montgomery History Conference, an annual event hosted by the Montgomery County Historical Society, featured presentations and discussions on a variety of topics related to the county’s history.

The conference began with a general session entitled “The Envisioning of Metro: An Enduring Design with Transformational Impacts.” Charlie Scott, Government Relations Officer for the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority (WMATA), discussed the public transit system’s formative years. 

In the mid-1960s, the National Capital Transit Agency, the forerunner of WMATA, first advanced the initial proposal for a 25-mile, 25-station subway line. Architect Harry Weese was commissioned to design the system and toured European cities to research public transit. He took the name “Metro” from the famed Paris Metro subway.


A look back at history through clear glasses

17972 miscellaneous nuclear explosion explosionI am a child of the 1950's and 1960's and have also witnessed the challenges of the 1970's, 1980's, 1990's and where we are now in the 21st century. I experienced the Cold War first-hand and remember quite vividly practicing shelter drills in P.S. 213 by taking cover under my desk in case we were attacked with an atomic bomb. Even at that age I questioned the effectiveness of that particular strategy.
As a student in J.H.S. 166, I remember the anxiety of the nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the leadership provided by our young president in addressing the threat to our nation. I remember quite vividly, while in Brooklyn College, the feeling of panic when the student deferment was pulled during the height of the Vietnam War as well as the relief I felt when my lottery number was 272.


“America’s Presidents” exhibit reopens at National Portrait Gallery

NPG George Washington PortraitA George Washington portrait is among the many works of art on display in the "America's Presidents" exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. COURTESY PHOTO  The “America’s Presidents” exhibition at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery is more than about portraits.

There’s historical context. The Gallery has grouped the portraits into six historical chapters, each with its own explanatory text. Five of these revolve around a particular era, each with one U.S. President anchoring it – George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Who is the worst President in our history?

Trump Mocking Disabled ReporterMy vote for absolutely worst president in our country's history, to the surprise of no one who routinely reads this column, is none other than Donald J. Trump.
In a mere six months, this individual has been able to become the single greatest embarrassment this country has ever experienced. His inability to craft a coherent sentence with words beyond a third grade level is the least of our concerns.
Of greater concern, much greater concern, is the fact that the single-minded purpose of Trump is to simply undo all that was set in place by his immediate predecessor and, in so doing, undermine so many of the principles and ideals on which this nation was built.


Remembering the early days of Metrorail

201002 metro19761215Metrorail map from Dec. 15, 1976. COURTESY PHOTO  “What took you so long?”

That was part of my reaction to Metrorail when I started using it regularly in 1977. I grew up on Long Island, and often visited New York City, where I took the subway all around Manhattan and to summer jobs. So with my New York background, it felt funny to be in a major city with no subway when I moved to DC in 1969.

Metrorail opened on March 27, 1976, with just five Red Line stations: Farragut North, Metro Center, Judiciary Square, Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue. Gallery Place opened in December 1976. (NoMaGallaudet did not open until 2004.)

When the Dupont Circle station opened on Jan. 17, 1977, I became a regular Metro commuter. I lived in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and worked at the D.C. Council as a legislative aide for John A. Wilson, after whom the District’s city hall, the Wilson Building, is named.


How far we’ve come . . .

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Sentinel celebrates 162 years of publication and service to the Montgomery community through a variety of cultural changes

MoCo Sentinel 1st IssueA reprint of the first issue of the Montgomery County Sentinel from Saturday, Aug. 11, 1855. FILE PHOTO  

For 162 years, The Montgomery County Sentinel has provided the residents of the County weekly news coverage from its newsroom in Rockville.

“We are proud to carry on the tradition of independence, and of being a community leader,” said publisher Lynn Kapiloff. “Our commitment to this community has never been stronger.”

The Sentinel remains the only community newspaper still publishing in Montgomery County and has been named the News Organization of the year by the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Press Association three out of the last five years.

Under the leadership of current owner Lynn Kapiloff and her late husband Dr. Bernard Kapiloff, The Sentinel became a beacon for Civil Rights and independence. During the 60s The Sentinel’s reporting on “The Giles case” – often referred to as the “’To Kill a Mockingbird’ case of Montgomery County,” led to freeing African Americans charged and wrongly convicted of rape.

But the paper was founded in different times and once stood for far different interests.

Founded in 1855 by Matthew Fields, like many newspapers of the era, The Sentinel began as a partisan publication in a divisive political environment prior to the Civil War in 1861. Issues such as slavery, tariffs, and state's rights were fiercely debated across the nation.

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