Each day loads of commuters hustle back and forth along Darnestown Road in Gaithersburg. They walk to and fro on the sidewalks, heading for shopping centers and nearby Quince Orchard High School.
The focus always appears to be on the destination, so much so that travelers may never realize they’re shuttling past one of the County’s great remaining reminders of a bygone era. And it’s one that is aging fast and in desperate need of renovation. Fortunately, a group of committed groups and volunteers is starting to make that renovation a reality.
The Pleasant View Historic Site consists of the Pleasant View Methodist Episcopal Church, an African-American church that opened in 1888, a former school that opened for students in 1901, and the Pleasant View Cemetery. A visit to the Historic Site provides a window into the life of Montgomery County African-American families during the Jim Crow era.
Over the years, the buildings have fallen into disrepair. The nonprofit organization, Preservation Maryland, has designated Pleasant View as one of “six to fix,” meaning key historical sites in the state that are in need of renovation. Fortunately, a group of committed groups and volunteers is starting to make the renovation of Pleasant View a reality.
After a long period of hard work, in 2016 the site’s trustees and others formulated a comprehensive assessment of and improvement plan for the site. Efforts are now underway to fund the renovation work the site will need to survive.
One of the first renovation projects at Pleasant View is the creation of a conservation landscape. Organizers hope the newly beautified grounds will help attract more visitors to the site and help improve water quality in the area by creating better stormwater management.
“Part of the rationale for doing this project is not only to make the land more attractive and provide a buffer from the street, but provide quite a bit more habitat,” said Merikay Smith, project leader for the renovation of the Pleasant View Historic Site. “There’s a strong educational component to this project because of the site.”
The conservation landscape at Pleasant View Historic Site was funded by the Montgomery County Watershed Restoration and Outreach Grant program, which is a joint project between Montgomery County and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The program is intended to help create and promote projects that directly improve water quality in Montgomery County and raise awareness through public engagement and education.
By creating conservation landscaping, the site’s trustees intend to make the site more attractive to visitors. In turn, those visitors can learn more about local history as well as more sustainable landscape choices and better storm water management.
“It’s a good model for what people can do in their yard or church or anywhere,” Smith said. “You can take out part of your lawn and put in native plants. We’re already starting to see a lot more native pollinators.”
As with much of the rest of the work being done at Pleasant View Historic Site, which to date has included developing a full revitalization plan for the church and school and moving forward will require major grassroots fundraising efforts to complete, the conservation landscape was installed thanks largely to the efforts of volunteers. Mulch was donated, and another volunteer even rented a piece of heavy equipment to dig out the original sod.
“We’ve gotten a lot of volunteers to help with planting,” Smith said.
As with most conservation landscapes and their close cousin, the rain garden, there is a practical component to the planting. Native plants are ideally suited for the local area, and as such are well suited to absorb excess moisture in the ground. That makes them perfect candidates to help capture excess stormwater runoff, which otherwise can make its way into paved surfaces and, in turn, carry pollutants into local waterways.
“There’s a gentle slope that goes down to a drain,” Smith said of Pleasant View Historic Site. “Rain would just come down the slope. Basically the plants come in and are like a sponge.”
Smith did note, however, that more volunteer help was needed for tasks including weeding and planting. More additions to the landscaping area also are in the works, including a bird nest, a bat house, rain barrels, a stone foot path through the planting area, signage, and maybe benches, all designed, Smith said, “to try to get the public more engaged with the site and aware of the site.”
Pleasant View Historic Site leaders also plan public talks, volunteer days, and other events, as a way for bringing in more visitors and imparting as much knowledge as possible. If more local residents can come to the site and learn about local history and stormwater management, that will make the landscaping project a success, Smith said. Project leaders also hope to use the conversation landscaping installed at Pleasant View as a catalyst for more people in the community to not only better manage stormwater on their property but to cherish the beauty and history of these important local landmarks.
“We want to just bring more people onto the site, and this will help with that,” Smith said. “Everything we can do to make people aware, that, hey, this exists, that’s what we want to do.”
The site will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2018.
Photos by Earth Stewardship East’s Pleasant View Project
Article written by Scott Harris Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Montgomery County and covers the environment and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.