New trail aims to preserve local history

TU faculty, students are helping create a three-mile greenway connecting a Towson community to the plantation where its ancestors were once enslaved

By Pamela Gorsuch on June 17, 2024

TU faculty and students with Nancy Goldring
From left: Zosha Stuckey, Samantha Park, Nancy Goldring, Jill Samaniego and Carrie Grant in front of the Jacob House, one of twelve historic landmarks along the Road to Freedom Trail. (Lauren Castellana | Towson University)

In 1829, hundreds of newly freed enslaved people left the Hampton Plantation in search of a better life. They traveled two miles south and set up residence in a valley, forming Baltimore County鈥檚 oldest African American community. Slavery wouldn鈥檛 be abolished in Maryland for another 35 years.

The community they established is Historic East Towson, and it鈥檚 located less than a mile from TU. Many of its current residents are direct descendants of the town founders. Now, university faculty and students are helping preserve their history.

They鈥檙e working under the direction of Nancy Goldring, a seventh-generation resident and current president of the (NeTIA). After seeing decades of redevelopment chip away at her community鈥檚 land, Goldring formulated a plan. She wanted to preserve the neighborhood鈥檚 historical landmarks and share the legacy of Historic East Towson through a dedicated green space. That鈥檚 how the Road to Freedom Trail was born.

Goldring aims to build a three-mile pedestrian and cycling greenway connecting the Historic East Towson community and 12 related landmarks to the Hampton Plantation where its founders lived in bondage. The path will offer county residents opportunities for recreation and reflection: It will start at the plantation鈥檚 stone slave quarters before winding past a historic school, cemetery, several churches and a 19th-century log cabin once home to a person newly freed from slavery. These long-standing landmarks hold considerable significance but are often unrecognized by passersby.

鈥淚t鈥檚 history hidden in plain sight,鈥 Goldring says. 鈥淪o many Towson residents have no idea there was once a 25,000-acre plantation with 500鈥600 slaves right here. They have no idea Baltimore County鈥檚 first African American landowner established a thriving community here. This story needs to be told.鈥 

That鈥檚 where Towson University鈥檚 College of Liberal Arts comes in. English professors Zosha Stuckey and Carrie Grant run the Grantwriting in Valued Environments (GIVE) Project, which helps English and professional writing students get real-world experience by supporting small non-profit organizations around Baltimore. Over the past three years, GIVE interns and graduate assistants have helped NeTIA secure grants, develop web content and establish a social media presence to expand awareness of the community and strengthen support for the trail.

鈥淕IVE is known nationally for a model of being embedded within organizations,鈥 Stuckey says. 鈥淲e listen deeply in order to attempt to understand the needs of the community so we can have a sustained positive impact.鈥

Since GIVE started 10 years ago, it has helped partners raise more than $800,000 in grants. NeTIA has won a $10,000 Maryland Humanities SHINE grant and been awarded a federal earmark for the planning, engineering and design of the Road to Freedom Trail. The project has also been accepted into the National Parks Service's Rails, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, which will provide technical support and planning to help make the trail a reality. Meanwhile, GIVE interns like Jillian Samaniego '25 continue to create content to help NeTIA build public support, gaining professional experience along the way.

鈥淚t鈥檚 opened my eyes to how writing can be used for social change and historic preservation,鈥 Samaniego says. 鈥淣ow I have experience writing grants, performing research, crafting social media content and more. It鈥檚 created a lot of possibilities.鈥  

It鈥檚 also facilitated discoveries. During their research, GIVE interns learned about a special connection between TU and the Hampton Plantation, which at its height contained 25,000 acres and the largest private home in the U.S. When plantation owner Capt. Charles Ridgely died, he left the estate to his nephew, future governor of Maryland Charles Carnan Ridgely, with the stipulation that a new home be built for his widow. That home? TU鈥檚 Auburn House.

While faculty and students continue to learn more about the community鈥檚 origins, Goldring is collecting oral histories of living descendants. Together, they鈥檙e building a clearer picture of a trailblazing community and its deep connections to Towson鈥檚 history.

鈥淚t鈥檚 fascinating how different pieces continue to emerge,鈥 Goldring says. 鈥淚t just keeps unfolding.鈥

Learn more

Dive Into History

Learn more about Historic East Towson on the community鈥檚 and . Take a to explore the history of our area and the landmarks along the trail.

Celebrate Juneteenth with TU

Monday, June 17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Join students, faculty and staff in the Paws Pavilion for food trucks and an arts & crafts sale.

Tuesday, June 18 from noon to 1:30 p.m.: Attend a virtual seminar on black generational wealth. Use the Zoom link to join. The meeting ID is 951 2266 7840 and the passcode is 02489947.

Wednesday, June 19: TU is closed in honor of Juneteenth.