Harriett Millard wanted to restore her late father’s childhood home in Calvert County — preserving Black history in a swath of southern Maryland where her family has deep roots. 

So she sought a historic designation on the advice of a former preservationist for the county, hoping tax benefits, grants and other incentives would help her rehabilitate the house on land the family has owned since at least 1890. 

Millard never received those perks, she said. 

Years later, her dreams of preserving the past have been overtaken by anxiety about securing a future for her family. The process she set in motion ultimately bound her from making other choices about the entire 1.52-acre property, which records show county officials decided to include in the designation after determining that it might have archaeological significance. 

“I don’t put it on myself,” Millard said of the predicament in a recent interview. She only wanted to preserve the home and build one for herself. 

But with the 1940 structure built by her great-grandfather now demolished, and the family’s ability to build elsewhere on the land in question, she does have concerns about what comes next. 

While county historic designations are rarely unwound — a Calvert spokeswoman said one other property has had its designation removed — Millard wants the status revoked. Years of trying are slated to culminate Wednesday in a hearing before the Calvert Historic District Commission. 

The family sees the result as a test of the county’s commitment to serving a dwindling number of Black residents, whose ancestors’ labor — on tobacco farms and oyster boats, in canneries and shipyards — fueled Calvert’s economy for generations. 

Perched on the gray foundation bricks of the old house recently, Millard, now 65, swapped memories of childhood summers in Lusby with her brother, Demaune, 50: peaches and pears straight from the trees, family members showing off fresh fish from the nearby Patuxent River, and stories of a Lusby that’s faded with time. 

The land stands to remain vacant with room only for their retrospection if the historical designation stays. 

The original house was built by Harrison Kent, who was born on an October day in the early 1890s, to parents born shortly after slavery was abolished in Maryland. 

An oysterman who worked jobs around Solomons Island, the siblings’ great-grandfather followed the trajectory of many Black county residents descended from enslaved laborers, who sought what limited autonomy and freedom they could in a time of overt racial discrimination. 

His labor afforded Kent and his wife, Daisy, the ability to build a home, about 500 square feet, atop a small hill with a gravel pathway leading to the structure. The house, which had no indoor plumbing, remained occupied until the late 1970s, when the Millards’ great-grandmother died. 

Calvert’s Board of County Commissioners approved the home for historic designation in 2018, stating that its “continuity of family ownership, the unchanged scale of the dwelling, and the potential information contained in the archaeological record on the property make this a significant and rare resource,” according to documents provided by the Calvert County Historical Society. 

The body noted that the Millards’ family members were part of the historical African American community in the area and that their home at the time was “one of the few dwellings on the road that remains from that period.” 

The grounds of the property had been “virtually undisturbed” since it was first purchased, the commission said in 2018. 

That reasoning no longer stands, since Harriett Millard demolished the home built by her great-grandfather in 2020. She said it had “become an eminent threat to public health, safety and welfare” because of its decay. 

Her own hired experts have found no examples of archaeological significance on the grounds of the property, she said. 

After Wednesday, the matter will go to a joint public hearing consisting of the Board of County Commissioners and county planning commissioners. 

If that hearing upholds the designation, the family could appeal the decision in court. 

Removing the historic designation would allow Millard to move forward with building a new, modern home without any historic preservation restrictions. 

Calvert County code states that a historic designation can be removed if a property no longer meets criteria under which it was originally designated. 

Sarah Ehman, Calvert’s public information program manager, said the county doesn’t impose a historic district overlay without an application from property owners and recommendation from the Historic District Commission. 

Even if the historic acknowledgment is taken away, that doesn’t rid the Millards of their connection to the county. 

Kent died in 1946 in a tragedy that would reverberate for generations. 

He was oystering with another man, Oscar Martin, that January when a torpedo allegedly fired by a Navy ship struck their small boat in the Patuxent River near Point Patience, the Cumberland Evening Times reported. The government at the time said that the men’s craft was in a prohibited area and that both men had signed documents assuming injury — a claim that the widows would later dispute in a lawsuit against the government. 

The siblings said their father, a teenager serving in the military abroad at the time, was haunted by Kent’s death and the limits of Lusby. When it came time to settle, he picked Baltimore. 

Many Black residents have left or died since the house was built, noted the siblings and neighbors along the street where the Millards’ property sits. 

“In that little pocket, mostly everyone has passed on,” Demaune said, gesturing at the neighborhood. “It was just a little community of Black families, and they all helped each other. … Nobody in that area ever went hungry.” 

Black people accounted for about 60 percent of the county’s population at the close of the Civil War. Now they number roughly 13 percent, according to census data. 

Rodell Mackall, an 85-year-old Black resident of Lusby since 1961, can map the change from his yard. 

“Up there, used to be Black, the people next to me used to be Black,” he said, pointing from atop his John Deere riding mower on land that he turned over to his children. “Blacks owned things back then.” 

The buzzing of cars audible from the Kent-Millard land is still a bit peculiar for the siblings, who are trying to find their place in a new Lusby. 

The family has hit one rule and roadblock after another the other as Harriett Millard has tried to make use of the land, documents show. 

Their late father wanted them to build on the land, inspiring her in the early 1990s to consider building townhouses on the property — only to be told by past officials that they didn’t want the area to become like a town center, she said. 

When she tried to demolish the home her great-grandfather built to construct a new house in the late ’90s, that application was denied because she was told that her land needed to be subdivided. 

Now, a nearby town center has risen, complete with a Starbucks and a Giant supermarket. 

Developers are targeting the area, said Florence Buck, 71, a lifelong resident down the street from the Millards who purchased her home through a Department of Housing and Urban Development program in the early 1990s. 

“They’re trying to make it more commercial,” said Buck, who has noticed an increase in letters over the past decade from developers and real estate agents. “It’s mostly White people taking over [land]. Our younger Blacks don’t want to come back this way.” 

Over time, the county commissioned the family land to widen a road. Another time, their father and aunt allowed the county to acquire more of their land to build Patuxent High School — with the caveat that heirs have an access point to the land in perpetuity. Next to their stretch of Lusby earth is a cellphone tower, placed there after a cousin sold her piece of land to the county. 

Click to Read More: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-md-county-labeled-this-black-land-historic-the-family-wants-that-reversed/ar-AA1cxf6G 

Source: msn.com 

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