Listening to Journey Stories on a Tour Through Berkely, A Small Place With Big History

The northeastern Harford County community of Berkley is a small hamlet with big history.  Virtually frozen into time once it was no longer on the main route between Baltimore and Philadelphia, the rural crossroads is “one of the few remaining unsullied snapshots of early Harford County,” the Maryland Historical Trust reports.  Its footprint has remained intact and “produced a contemporary landscape that closely resembles the landscape of over 200 years.”

This beautiful spot has stories and the Hosanna School Museum was sharing them Saturday.  During a day-long, sold out bus tour that rambled along country roads the excurisionists admired architecture, scenic vistas, landscape, and preserved opened space while listening to the historical narratives.

Guided by two knowledgeable escorts, Christine Tolbert and Connie Biems, the sightseers made frequent stops.  At these spots and as they cruised slowly along rural lanes, the guides talked about the thriving crossroads that served travelers, the history of Free Blacks in America, the Susquehanna River, and sites of significance during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  The free African-American community, with land ownership going back to the late 18th century, included the Hosanna AME Church and the Hosanna School.  At Swallowfield, a documented station on the Underground Railroad, the story was about the Quaker Family that helped slaves cross the Susquehanna as they sought freedom in Pennsylvania.

The day also included a trip to the Bel Air Library to see the exhibit, “Fugitives, Accessories and Catchers.”  On their way down Route 1, Ms. Tolbert pointed out the African-American businesses that once operated on the main highway between Florida and Maine.

After a day of enjoying the area’s heritage, the visitors were back at the museum where the theme was “Divergence:  Pathways of African Americans in Harford County.”  For that they heard a brief talk about Hosanna School, viewed a fine exhibit and watched a video documenting the relocation of families when Aberdeen Proving Ground came to the county in 1917.  The museum had participated in a Smithsonian Journey Stories Youth Oral History Project to develop the video and companion displays

The day sponsored by the Hosanna School Museum was part of a series of programs offered as the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit, Journey Stories, quickly comes to an end in Harford County and moves to Cecil County.  Brought to the state by the Maryland Humanities Council, this traveling exhibit shares stories of our ancestors and the journeys they took through their lives.  At the local level, sponsors support the visit of the Smithsonian curated exhibit by conducting local programs such as this.

It was an engaging Saturday on a journey into an area where the past is still present as our two informative and entertaining hosts shared their excellent research in captivating ways and the president of the organization, Iris Barnes, managed the administrative matters.  Thank you Hosanna School Museum.  If they offer this again, be sure not to miss it.

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