by Ethan Weston
July 22, 2021
On a mild June morning, community members from Parkers Creek in Calvert County, Maryland, came together to begin restoration work on Brown United Methodist Church, a historic landmark with over a century of memories for the town’s African-American residents.
“I'm standing on the shoulders of many of my ancestors: my grandparents, my uncles, my aunts, my dad,” said Gladys Jones, the community member leading the project. According to Jones, restoring the church, which was built in 1886 and became inactive in 1972, is a way to provide the community with a valuable resource while preserving the legacy of her ancestors.
Throughout the day, volunteers trimmed overgrown grasses, cleared out debris and wiped clean gravestones planted in the church’s cemetery. Like Jones, many of the volunteers that day had a similar connection to the church or the Parkers Creek community. For some, it was their childhood church. Others had friends and relatives buried in the church’s cemetery.
“The church at that time was a central part of community life for the African-American community,” said Greg Bowen, executive director of the American Chestnut Land Trust (ACLT), a nonprofit that conserves land in Parkers Creek, including the church grounds.
Parkers Creek was once a thriving community home to many tobacco farmers, both Black and white. Now, the area is less populated, though some still live there and the remaining buildings have immense value to the residents. The ACLT works to preserve land in Parkers Creek and the surrounding Governor’s Run watersheds because of its historic value, but primarily as a way of protecting the natural environment.
"We think that the next generation need to connect with the land and have an understanding of our history," Bowen said. "A good cultural understanding and a good environmental understanding [is required] to be able to care for the lands as they should be."
According to Jones, the ACLT has been supporting her mission to restore the church, helping her apply for grants and organize the landmark’s management.
“American Chestnut Land Trust is our partner here in this effort,” she said.
Bowen says that the church will eventually be a stop along the ACLT heritage trails—nearly 20 miles of trails which crisscross over 3,000 acres of land that the ACLT protects. A hike through the Parkers Creek watershed might take you across streams, around swamps and almost out to the Chesapeake Bay. Found near the Griffin Meadow trail is the ACTL’s Double Oak Farm, which the nonprofit uses as a place to teach about historical and environmentally friendly farming techniques. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the watershed is home to one of the largest contiguous tracts of forest in Calvert County.
Remnants of Parkers Creek’s agricultural past—old barns and preserved farm buildings—can still be found along the trail, as well as preserved houses. One such building is the house of Lemuel Wallace, a Black tobacco farmer who owned 100 acres of land in the early 1900s. According to Bowen, the Lemuel Wallace farm was on the first tract of land preserved by the trust.
Keeping that land undeveloped helps prevent runoff and nutrient flows from reaching the Bay, which in turn keeps the estuary, its tributaries and flora and fauna healthier. According to Bowen, the ACLT is looking to broaden its vision to conserve land throughout all of southern Maryland. The nonprofit is in the process of forming the Southern Maryland Conservation Alliance, which will include a number of regional partners.
“We have a pretty strong team,” said Bowen. “We've got all the major land trusts in southern Maryland, we have the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other affiliate groups.”
Together, those groups will work to protect the environment and the cultural heritage in the five county region that makes up southern Maryland. Bowen said the alliance is set to kick off this fall and that the ACLT will have a large role., However, Bowen says, they will continue to focus on protecting Parkers Creek and Governor’s Run watersheds.