EASTON, Md. (AP) — The Academy Art Museum has acquired the properties at 106, 108 and 110 Talbot Lane for the creation of an annex, thanks to a generous donation by AAM trustee Elizabeth “Diz” Hormel.
Land records and archeological studies have identified that the land was originally owned by Henny and James Freeman beginning in the 1780s. The Freemans were one of the earliest documented free Black landowning families in Easton.
Through the end of the month, the Ottery Group, a Maryland consulting firm that offers services in archeology, historic preservation and the environmental sciences, will conduct an archeological study that builds on three previous studies of the Freeman site led by University of Maryland Department of Anthropology researchers Mark Leone and Tracy Jenkins in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Through rigorous testing, including ground-penetrating radar, shovel testing, and test unit and feature excavation, the UMD team collected approximately 20,000 artifacts. Based on the results of these investigations, it is likely that the site contains additional, well-preserved archeological deposits from the period of Henny and James Freeman’s ownership, from 1787 to 1828.
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The research will be led by Lyle Torp, who founded The Ottery Group in 1998, and Matthew Palus.
On March 29, community members are invited to the site to meet the archeologists and learn about their initial findings. AAM Director Sarah Jesse will also be on site to share the museum’s future plans.
Following the archeological study, AAM plans to rehabilitate the existing structure on the 106 plot and connect it to new construction on the 108 and 110 plots, which are currently empty lots, in an annex that will provide needed administrative space, as well as commemorate the historical significance of Easton’s Hill Community. Part of the annex will be named The Henny and James Freeman Wing and showcase the objects unearthed from the excavations in outdoor displays that tell the story of the family and neighborhood.
This act of philanthropy will allow AAM to play a role in both preserving the unique identity of the site and in connecting community members to their shared history. To Diz Hormel, the initiative has been gratifying, “I’m blessed and honored to be in a position to do this,” she said. “I do other things philanthropically, but this is a chance to do something very concrete, visible and tangible.”
Hormel’s gift is one of the largest in the Museum’s history.
“It is an honor to be a part of such a meaningful project that will enable the work of the museum and contribute to a fuller understanding of the African American experience in Maryland prior to the Civil War. This is a unique opportunity to advance scholarship on early free African American communities and to make a greater impact within our community. We are exceedingly grateful to Diz for her generosity and partnership,” Jesse said.
Local civic leaders and community members have played a strong role in shaping the museum’s project.
Historic Easton Inc. President Carlene Phoenix said, “The staff and board of AAM have taken numerous steps to reach out to neighbors and the civic organizations active on The Hill and to consider community perspectives on this complex redevelopment proposal.”
This addition will be both a transformative growth opportunity for the museum and have a lasting impact on the community, Jesse said.