Button Farm

“It is important to disseminate the facts about these matters precisely because they are the facts – and because only an accurate understanding of history makes it possible to deal intelligently with the future.” – Bruce Levine in Slavery and Public History

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The Button Farm depicts plantation life in antebellum Maryland. The site includes both a farm house and slave farm where narratives of the Underground Railroad are told. Coming under the auspices of the state of Maryland Curatorship Program, the Menare Foundation restore and preserves the land in exchange for a long-term lease, issued by the state.[1]

The interpretation of the Button Farm is based on a number of primary sources; narratives, agricultural records, archives and oral histories.[2] A selection of these sources is shared with visitors to the site when displays are set up in the center pavilion. Along with primary sources, display boards are also set up to convey more information to the audience.

The audience of this site is largely community based, the majority of which is made up by Montgomery County

Visitors learn how to use the cider press during the Button Farm's Fall Festival.

residents.[3] They range in age and background, including local school programs. The site boasts a “Hands on History” program for children, as well as various activities, such as the cider press and making spirit bottles, that engage kids in learning about the past.

Historical education is at the forefront of the site’s mission, but history is not all the farm educates its visitors on. At events, like their Emancipation Day, posters are set up in the pavilion discussing the conservation and preservation efforts which are entailed in keeping the site operational. There is also an emphasis on agriculture. A large part of the history of the site involves farm life. As the Button Farm is still active, visitors have the opportunity to gain knowledge not only on the past, but also current agriculture of the sight. The garden is the center of the heirloom preservation program, which includes growing “rare or endangered crops in order to save seed and keep these varieties alive.”[4]

As the mission of the site is to further knowledge on slavery and the Underground Railroad, there are a number of structures dedicated to preserving that narrative. The Pavilion, which hosts performances and concerts, is also the location where slave auctions are depicted in the farm’s program, Beyond the Big House.[5] The Old Barn, an 1850s farm, is the setting for a portion of the site’s Underground Railroad Immersion Experience, “a dramatic reenactment of the journey from slavery to freedom.”[6]

Grave marker in slave cemetery

Perhaps the most moving aspect of the site is the slave cemetery. Just behind the tree line, bordering the far side of the large field where slaves once worked, lay the grave markers. They would be easy to miss if the site’s signage did not alert visitors to their presence. At first they look simply like large stones. On closer inspection, however, visitors can find shallow crosses carved into the face of the rock. These simple signs of respect, preserved in an area of the site that is removed from the main visitor traffic, sit in silence, allowing visitors to think on those who had once lived and worked on the land. The audience makes an emotional connection with the individuals they are learning about, engaging them further in the educational experience.

There are many advances scheduled for the site in the upcoming years. A full restoration of the Old Barn should be completed by 2012, as well as that of the slave quarters. The site does not currently employ any full time interpreters. However, they bring costumed interpreters to the farm at the request of school programs and for large events.[7] For the time being, tours are self-guided, but there are plans to train an interpretive staff in 2011.[8] Each of these will further the site’s mission to promote knowledge of plantation life and slavery.

[1] Anthony Cohen, Interview by Kelly Johnson, electronic interview, November 15, 2010.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Museum Garden,” Button Farm sign #2.

[5] “Pavilion & Plantation Bell,” Button Farm sign #4.

[6] The Mendare Foundation, Inc., Preserving the Legacy of the Underground Railroad Guide.

[7] Cohen, electronic interview, November 15, 2010.Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

Published on December 1, 2010 at 7:29 pm  Comments Off on Button Farm  
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