April 19, 2011

Seven Locks Elementary School, Bethesda, MD & Historic Preservation

Recently, whilst driving down Seven Locks Rd., I had to stop and take some photos of my old elementary school. It's being torn down, a larger public elementary school building will take it's place.

This is where my career in historic preservation started, in Mrs. Bane's 4th grade class. For extra credit, we were given the opportunity to make a filmstrip for the Montgomery County Public Schools Film Festival. A bunch of us kids decided to give it a go, but we needed a topic. I suggested the "Old Blacksmith Shop" located on the corner of River & Seven Locks Roads. I had probably passed by that place everyday of my life and as a very young child the blacksmith shop had fascinated me.

What was it's history? Who had lived there? Why did it look so different than the house I lived in? What was it all about?

I remember that we took the school bus to get there (bus #216, Nora was our bus driver for years.) First, we stopped at the mansion house (Samuel's Delight) up from the blacksmith shop. We met the owners, and we were invited in to look at the main floor of the house. It was so old, and so different from any home I had ever been in. It was magical!

Then, we all walked down to the blacksmith shop. The inside was so small! (We had to take turns going in!) Even at age 10, it was tiny. I remember climbing up the ladder to the sleeping area, but I don't remember being able to stand up straight due to the ceiling height. The young couple who lived there explained that it been a blacksmith shop and when that was no longer needed it had been turned into a small house. I was so envious! I too wanted to live in that tiny, magical stone building that had once been the site of colonial workmanship.

We took pictures, wrote up our thoughts, composed a soundtrack, ("clickety clop, clickety clop, these are the sounds of the blacksmith shop") and submitted our entry. We won something. (Perhaps more importantly, we got to miss a half-day of school to go to the award ceremony on Hungerford Drive.)

Looking back, I realize that this was where things started to click for me. I remember being almost giddy at the understanding that these two structures, mansion house and blacksmith shop, were somehow related to each other. They were not lone, old, individual buildings...they were related! They were somehow connected to each other.

And of course, now, doing what I do, I know that it would have been slaves who worked there. Slaves who climbed that ladder and slept in the loft area. Slaves who were the skilled craftsmen who ran that shop.

Thank you Mrs. Bane. I am forever fascinated. I am forever humbled.

Photos taken by Maddy McCoy in November, 2010.
Maddy McCoy
Fairfax County, Virginia
Slavery Inventory Database

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