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Josiah Henson Special Park Structure Added to National Register of Historic Places

by Abbigail Irelan on January 20th, 2012

SILVER SPRING, MD—M-NCPPC- Montgomery Parks Director Mary Bradford announced today that the Riley/Bolten House, a historic structure located within Josiah Henson Special Park, has been added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

Named for its former owners, the original structure was built between 1800-1815. It once stood at the center of the 260+ acre Isaac Riley Farm where the Reverend Josiah Henson lived and worked as a slave from 1795 to 1830. Josiah Henson escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad and in 1849 wrote his autobiography. Henson’s life story served as the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famed Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

“The Riley/Bolten House is the only remaining structure associated in the United States with the Reverend Henson and, as such, is a critical piece of our African American history,” said
Shirl Spicer, Museum Manager for the Montgomery Parks. “Preserving this important structure will allow future generations to learn about slavery in Montgomery County and to touch actual pieces of history.”

Throughout its 200+ year history, the Riley/Bolten House was sold and modified several times, including the 1850-1851 addition of a log kitchen with loft above. The house also underwent a major renovation between 1936 and 1939 when a prominent architect was commissioned to renovate the main house in the Colonial Revival style. The Riley/Bolten House, therefore, has historic significance from multiple periods of architectural history, and boasts original features including fireplaces and some decorative trim.

In 2006, the site was sold to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission so that the property, designated as a local historic site in 1979, could be opened to the public. M-NCPPC- Montgomery Parks currently opens the 2–acre property and house for tours and special programs eight time per year, while continuing extensive historical research on the property. Plans are currently underway to transform the Riley/Bolten House into a museum and educational center focusing on Reverend Josiah Henson and the history of slavery in Montgomery County.

In 2009, the M-NCPPC-Montgomery Parks received a $100,000 grant towards the preservation of the Riley/Bolten House through the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures Grant Program. One of the conditions of the grant was the listing of the structure on the National Register. The grant is being put towards preservation of the structure.

The National Register of Historic Places formally recognizes the historical, architectural, archaeological and cultural significance of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects. In addition to honoring sites that meet the highest criteria for significance, the National Register also encourages preservation of historic properties through planning, public awareness, federal and state tax incentives and grants.

The addition of the Riley/Bolten House to the National Register of Historic Places was spearheaded by M-NCPPC-Montgomery Parks’ Cultural Resources Stewardship Section and supported by the County Executive, the County Council,  the Planning Board, and the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission. The nomination was submitted to the National Park Service, the keeper of the Register, by the Maryland Historical Trust.

“I am delighted with this national recognition for such an important place,” stated Bradford, “and we welcome visitors to take a tour with us during Black History Month in February.”

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