Help stop the spread of COVID-19 and follow all current directives from your governor and local health officials about wearing face masks and physical distancing.
A note about COVID-19 and visiting parks: Help stop the spread of COVID-19 and follow all current directives from your governor and local health officials about wearing face masks and physical distancing.
The Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum is nestled in the small mill town of Catonsville, Maryland and is approximately 35 minutes away from Baltimore City. Unlike many parks that I have visited, I was pleasantly surprised by the park’s robust interpretive signage. Before visiting the park, I was only vaguely familiar with Benjamin Banneker’s story, but by the time I left, I felt educated and empowered by his legacy.
Now called the first Black man of science, Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught mathematician, astronomer, carpenter, farmer, and naturalist. Banneker’s most notable accomplishments include a wooden clock, six published almanacs, an accurate solar eclipse prediction, and his role on the surveyor team that established the boundaries of what is now Washington, D.C. When Benjamin was six years old, his father wrote Benjamin's name on the deed of 100 acres of land bought with 7,000 pounds of tobacco. Benjamin lived on this property all his life and it now comprises the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum.
To minimize the spread of COVID-19, the museum is currently closed to the public. However, without referencing a map, it was easy to wander around the immediate area of the museum and find several points of interest. Behind the museum building, there is an apiary, nature play space, herb garden, vegetable garden, and a reconstructed cabin that archaeologists believe to be similar to the style of cabin Benjamin Banneker built for himself when he lived on the property in the mid-1700s.
Replica of Benjamin Banneker’s cabin, Diamonique Clark photo
While enjoying a brisk walk on the Yellow and White Trails, I found a vernal pool. However, my favorite trails of the park were the storybook trails. One trail was lined with signs that told the story of how Banneker built his first clock. Another trail explained the significance of the park’s orchard and shared how Banneker started his orchard with pear trees. The Baltimore County Public Library Storybook Trail begins at the Children's Play Space and continues around the perimeter of the Banneker Orchard.
Within the park’s museum there are several artifacts of Banneker’s belongings, including some scientific equipment he made for his studies. During my hike, these bits of information brought Benjamin Banneker’s legacy to life. As a naturalist, I made a game of it and tried to find relic pear trees of Banneker’s original orchard.
Vernal pool viewed from the Yellow Trail, photo by Diamonique Clark
As we move into Black History Month and I reflect on the accomplishments of Benjamin Banneker, it is clear to me why parks such as this one should exist. For one, these parks offer connection to place through storytelling. Most importantly, they share stories of people that have contributed significantly to this nation’s development, especially people of color. After a few hours of learning about Benjamin Banneker, I came across additional information about the property. Like many other places, the history of the park extends before and after that of Benjamin Banneker. There is a beautiful three-story stone house – unusual for its day – which was built and occupied by several generations of farm families. Banneker also sold portions of his property to the Ellicott family, who founded nearby Ellicott City. While those stories were interesting, I could not connect to them in the same ways I hung on to information about Banneker. In fact, many of the parks I visit are named after, or have trails named after, the likeness of similar people that do not reflect diverse life experiences. So, as a young Black woman, enthusiastically engaged in outdoor recreation and education, having access to an outdoor place that is named after, and honors, someone that looks like me is enough for me to feel safe there.
Trueth/Bannaky House built after Banneker’s death by the Hynes family, Diamonique Clark photo
The cherry on top of it all is the park’s proximity to cities like Baltimore and Ellicott City. For those looking for a quick retreat into accessible woodlands, I would highly recommend visiting here – especially if you enjoy history, appreciate inclusion, and enjoy outdoor programming. The park hosts a few outdoor events a few times a week that are great for families, children, and adults. In total, the park has six miles of trails, and although I stayed on the north side of the park, there are two more trails that extend directly into downtown Ellicott City and Catonsville.
Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum is a 142-acre site dedicated to telling the inspiring story of the life and times of Benjamin Banneker, often considered the first African-American man of science.