Exploring Jonathan Street: History, art, imagination exhibition celebrates Hagerstown’s historically black community

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HAGERSTOWN, MD — When a police cruiser crashed into a home at 417 N. Jonathan St. on a wet day in 2018, the accident exposed a piece of long-forgotten history in the historically Black neighborhood.

Hidden underneath layers of vinyl siding were hand-hewn timbers at least 200 years old revealing a log cabin. What had started as a demolition of the condemned building turned into a preservation of the home and an excavation that uncovered pieces of the past.

“Exploring Jonathan Street: History, Art, Imagination” is inspired by the fascinating discovery of that log cabin at 417 N. Jonathan Street.

This exhibition seeks to share that story and the many layers of cultural history that the cabin embodies. Exploring Jonathan Street: History, Art, Imagination runs May 21-September 11, 2022 at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

Sometimes called “the little cabin that could,” 417 N. Jonathan Street, constructed from 1839‒41, has attained emblematic status as a symbol of both the rich cultural heritage of the neighborhood and the value we can find in that history to help foster a stronger community in the present and future.

Providing an immersive, thoughtful exploration of the cabin’s story, Exploring Jonathan Street features archaeological objects excavated from the cabin site (most of which the community has only seen in photographs), enlarged documentary photographs of the cabin’s historic condition and works from the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts’ collection.

The exhibition uses these materials to explore the history of Hagerstown’s traditionally Black Jonathan Street neighborhood from the early 1800s to the present. Hagerstown’s own nationally-known artist Graff Dummy has been commissioned to create a contemporary artwork inspired by the research completed at the cabin site and the powerful history of the neighborhood where he spent part of his youth.

In conjunction with the exhibition, WCMFA is hosting a Juneteenth Community Day, Sunday, June 19 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the museum. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Blacks in the United States, the museum plans to mark the occasion with a free, fun-filled, family day.

Through the collaborative efforts of colleagues at Preservation Maryland, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration, archaeologists, and community members, Jonathan Street’s rich legacy is actively being researched, preserved, and shared. This exhibition is by no means an exhaustive community history, but instead a step along the way to further exploring, documenting, researching, publishing, and talking about this unique, vital, and historically important part of Hagerstown’s past, present, and future.

Exploring Jonathan Street: History, Art, Imagination is organized by the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts with the assistance of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, and Preservation Maryland, Archaeological excavation performed by the Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration. The exhibition has been generously supported by Jim & Mindy Marsden and Ken & Ann Grove.