Adjacent to Historic St. Mary’s City sits an endangered symbol of Maryland’s agricultural history—the Bean Tobacco Barn.
In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed southern Maryland’s tobacco barns as one of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the U.S. These barns represent the agrarian life that has defined St. Mary’s County, and the state, since 1634.
Thousands drive past the Bean barn, owned by the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission, on Route 5, every day. Passersby see the work being done, as well as the sign about the partnership that began saving it. (Martin Saunders, a St. Mary’s College of Maryland student, wrote a grant to the Student Government Association for $20,000 to rehabilitate the barn; the students awarded the funds from activity fees. The state matched the funds and the project moved forward.)
From its earliest days, Maryland’s economy was based on tobacco. The crop provided work and wealth for the colony and remained an essential economic driver, particularly in southern Maryland, through the 20th century, says Regina Faden of the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission, who nominated the barn.
Unfortunately, funds once provided by the state and preservation partners are no longer available. One can see significantly deteriorated barns along many roads in the region. As an organization dedicated to preserving and interpreting the rural character of the landscape in St. Mary’s City, the museum (governed by the commission) wants to rehabilitate this highly visible barn and turn it into a working structure.
“Tobacco barns, unless used as tools for learning about Maryland’s heritage or converted into a productive farm workspace, face an uncertain future even in a region such as St. Mary’s County, where many people hope that agriculture will remain a significant element of the landscape,” says Faden. “Finding a use for tobacco barns on agricultural land is an important goal in the preservation of the traditional culture in southern Maryland and, more specifically, St. Mary’s County.”
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.