A Westbard congregation that has spent months seeking to protect the site of a historic black cemetery is now looking to have the area granted a historic designation.
Macedonia Baptist Church in Bethesda made the request in a Dec. 8 letter to the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission. Listing the roughly one-acre tract in a county atlas and index of historic sites would give church members and descendants of those buried “legal assurances that the cemetery site will not be disturbed or altered by development activities” for the time being, church member Marsha Coleman-Adebayo wrote.
Church members have spoken loudly against the idea of developing on and around land where they believe graves are located. The Montgomery County Planning Board this month approved plans to build a self-storage facility at 5204 River Road, despite church members’ objections that the project could affect the cemetery site.
Developers in that case have agreed to give the county parks system land that could include part of the cemetery and to help pay for an archaeological assessment.
County planners have researched the history of the site, which an African-American benevolent association bought in 1911 for a burial ground. In the 1950s, the land was sold, and it is now partially covered by a parking lot.
While officials have said it’s unclear if gravesites still exist on the land, local historian David Rotenstein said he can’t find any proof that human remains were removed.
“There’s no evidence, other than anecdotal evidence provided by construction workers at the site in the 1960s, that some bodies were haphazardly disinterred,” said Rotenstein, who is working with the church to protect the site.
Rotenstein said the request to add the property to the county’s locational atlas of historic sites requires approval by the historic preservation commission and the planning board.
The move would be a temporary measure while church members conduct the research necessary to nominate the site for inclusion in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. That designation would provide the property with permanent protection, said Rotenstein, who formerly served on the county’s historic preservation commission.
Rotenstein said he expects the commission will discuss the church’s request at an upcoming meeting.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.