Tag Archives: Prince George’s County

Lost Laurel Wins St. George’s Day Award

This afternoon, I had the honor of receiving a Prince George’s County Historical Society St. George’s Day Award at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, MD.

According to PGCHS:

Established in 1974, these awards are given annually to honor living individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the preservation of the County’s heritage.

Some of the names I recognize as past recipients include longtime Laurel Leader editor Gertrude Poe, Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, and Comptroller Louis Goldstein. Just to be mentioned in such company is a huge honor; and I’m so pleased that those who study and preserve the history of both Laurel and Prince George’s County consider my humble Lost Laurel project to be so worthy.

Prince George’s County Historical Society Board Member Lynn Roberts made a terrific presentation, reading a statement from Laurel Historical Society Executive Director Lindsey Baker.

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Laurel Historical Society President Steve Hubbard was there, explaining the premise of Lost Laurel and the work that went into producing the book.

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I want to thank the Prince George’s County Historical Society again for this award, which is a wonderful acknowledgement of a project that has truly been a labor of love. And a super-thank you to everyone at the Laurel Historical Society for nominating me in the first place (which I also just discovered today!) Thank you, all!

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Stanley Memorial Library: What’s In a Name?

UPDATE: 3/8/14

Shortly after stories were published about opposition to the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System’s plan to drop the “Stanley Memorial” name from the new library, Laurel resident Maureen Johnson wrote a letter to the editor of the Laurel Leader, in favor of changing the name. She brought to light an important historical detail that had been readily available in Charles H. Stanley’s online biography, but until now, hadn’t so much as raised an eyebrow: he fought for the Confederacy.

She raised the point that it’s not necessarily the fact that a library is named after a Confederate veteran that troubles her; it’s the location of the library that is going to undoubtedly rub many residents the wrong way—Laurel’s historically African-American neighborhood, The Grove. Moreover, the new building will occupy an even larger portion of Emancipation Park than the current building does.

Maureen gave an interview with NBC4’s Tracee Wilkins last night that explained her position well:

NBC4 News screenshot

Click image for link to video and story on NBCWashington.com

It’s crucial that I include this update, because much has changed over the last few days—and it’s in the interest of fairness that I add Maureen’s voice to the story.

When I wrote the original post below—and subsequently launched a petition urging the Library Board to keep the Stanley name, it was solely in response to the news that the PGCMLS was planning to drop the name “in order to make the library easier to find”—which I think we can all agree was a universally absurd reason.

As far as I was concerned at the time, the only issue at hand was the library’s potential breach of contract with the Stanley family—the descendants of Charles Stanley, who generously donated the land for which a library in his honor was constructed.

For whatever reason, it seems that the idea of actually researching the complete life history of Mr. Stanley himself has just never manifested until now. And in the heat of the moment, reading what little information was posted about him, the innocuous mention that he served as a private in the Confederate army admittedly didn’t have anywhere near the emotional effect on me as it did Ms. Johnson; and that resulted in some spirited back-and-forth on Facebook earlier this week.

I’m happy to report that I had the chance to meet Maureen in person yesterday, and found her to be a wonderful, engaging lady who’s clearly passionate about her hometown. She’s also acutely aware of the sensitivity of this entire situation, and acknowledges that it’s complicated on so many levels.

We discussed my concern that Stanley’s legacy of extensive service to Laurel shouldn’t be tarnished outright without significantly more research. There are snippets emerging of other potentially important and redeeming deeds that Stanley may have done in his lifetime that specifically benefited the African-American community, too—if verifiable, those types of things would certainly have to be taken into consideration, as well. By the same token, should more troubling details surface about his Civil War experience, it needs to come to light for history’s sake, and particularly for the sake of the surrounding community in which his namesake library has stood for nearly half a century.

The PGCMLS has a difficult task ahead, and I hope they’ll reach out to the Stanley family—or vice versa—and work together to reach a solution that’s in Laurel’s best interest.

We’ve hardly heard the last of this story. In the meantime, the Laurel Leader‘s Luke Lavoie has written the first extensive piece on it, which you can read here. There are plenty of good points within.

And if all that isn’t enough library action for you, don’t forget that today, March 8th, is actually the last day that the old building will be open to the public. Stop by and soak it all in, one last time.

 

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The original post appears below.

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(Laurel Historical Society collection)

(Laurel Historical Society collection)

The final week of Laurel’s Stanley Memorial Library is nearly upon us, as the building that opened in 1967 is scheduled to close on March 10th. After next Saturday, March 8th, patrons will have to wait until March 31st for the opening of a temporary facility behind the Municipal Center—as the old building will be demolished and construction set to begin on the town’s brand new facility.

The new library will be on the same site, situated at the corner of 7th & Talbott. So while Laurel isn’t technically losing its library, it will be losing the recognizable building that so many have utilized in its nearly 47 years. And that’s the toughest part for me, personally—having worked there as a clerical aide from 1987–97, I’m just not looking forward to seeing the place I knew so well torn down. I was part of the staff who, way back in 1993, physically moved every book, shelf, and table around during the expansion.

(Richard Friend/Lost Laurel collection)

(Richard Friend/Lost Laurel collection)

Make no mistake, getting a new library is a very big deal. And it’s good for Laurel. The branch desperately needed the expansion 21 years ago, and has since outgrown that, as well. And this year is shaping up to be one of a renaissance for the town, what with the opening of the new Town Centre at Laurel this Fall, and the library construction.

But one of the issues recently being brought to light is the name of the library itself—something that has been a bit blurred over the decades, and something which the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System has done little to clarify.

Most of us—myself included, as well as the very librarians and staff who’ve worked there for years—have always referred to the building as “the Laurel Library”. It’s how they answer the phones there, and it’s simply an accepted informal name. In fact, most people don’t even use “Laurel” when referring to it; because if you’re in Laurel and you’re going to “the library”, there’s only one you’re going to.

But at the same time, most of us who use these abbreviated names are still conscious of the fact that the building does have a proper name gracing its exterior—the Stanley Memorial Library. And now, for whatever reason, the Prince George’s County Board of Library Trustees is planning to formally drop Stanley’s name from the new building entirely. And they’re doing so under the auspices of “helping the public find the library”—as if A) people in Laurel have forgotten that there’s been a library at this location for nearly half a century, and B) you couldn’t Google directions in a matter of seconds—in this Internet age that has, in effect, almost made libraries obsolete.

(Wikipedia)

Charles H. Stanley (1842–1913) was the second mayor of Laurel, as well as the founder and president of Citizens National Bank on Main Street. A quick perusal of his biography at the Maryland State Archives will show that he was much more—not only in the Laurel community, but to Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland itself.

(Maryland State Archives)

(Maryland State Archives)

(Maryland State Archives)

(Maryland State Archives)

He lived and died in Laurel, and is buried at Ivy Hill Cemetery—where he could soon be spinning in his grave, should his name be unceremoniously dropped from the library that was always intended to bear his name.

stanley-grave

According to Sylvia Bolivar, president of the Prince George’s County Board of Library Trustees:

“The Board believes that naming a branch library according to its location helps the public to find libraries close to their neighborhoods, whereas a building named after a person, tends to render a library harder to find.”

She wrote this in a January 22nd response to Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, who had respectfully contested the change. PGCMLS director Kathleen Teaze supported her position in the name of “…(keeping) consistency among the system”—the system, of course, being a simple naming convention based on the branch location.

The Laurel Historical Society also supports keeping the name intact, and Executive Director Lindsey Baker not only submitted an editorial letter in this week’s Laurel Leader, but wisely pointed out this important tidbit:

In the 1963 deed transferring the land where the library currently sits, it specifically states that the Board of County Commissioners for Prince George’s County will erect “a Public Library Building to be known as ‘The Stanley Memorial Library’ ” on the land deeded from the Stanley family.

That fact alone should be legally ironclad, for as long as any library sits on the parcel of land at the corner of 7th and Talbott. And the Board of Library Trustees’ plan to “commemorate Stanley with a photo and memorial in the library lobby” is an embarrassingly poor compromise, when the man’s name was always intended to be much more prominently associated.

I know what some of you are probably thinking. “Who cares, right? It’s just a library.” I’m sure the Stanley family cares, having deeded the land for the library in the first place. Clearly Mayor Moe and the Laurel Historical Society care. I care, and you should care. Most of all, the Prince George’s County Board of Library Trustees had better start caring.

What I find most ironic in this is the complete lack of recognition of their own name, the Prince George’s County MEMORIAL Library System. Maybe they should consider changing that, if they’re no longer concerned with memorializing those who made the branches possible.

In fairness, I understand to some degree what they’re trying to do. Naming the libraries by location makes perfect sense; and again, people are inherently going to revert to calling them that anyway. It happens with many building dedications, including schools and government facilities. How many DC tourists do you think ask for directions to the “J. Edgar Hoover Building”? They don’t. They say, “Where’s the FBI building?” And that’s fine, because Mr. Hoover’s name is still on it, regardless.

If PGCMLS wishes to refer to the new building as the “Laurel Library”, I see no reason why they shouldn’t. The public can refer to it that way, as well. But the new building should nonetheless still prominently bear the name “Stanley Memorial Library”, as its original land deed intended. That part is non-negotiable. And ultimately, it would be no different than it’s always been.

(Laurel Leader, May 14, 1981)

(Laurel Leader, May 14, 1981)

(Photo: PGCMLS)

(Photo: PGCMLS)

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I’d like to get back to the Board of Library Trustees’ idea of commemorating Mr. Stanley with a photo and memorial in the lobby for a moment, though. Because while it isn’t appropriate for Mr. Stanley himself in this circumstance, I certainly don’t mean to belittle a lobby tribute—to the right person. In fact, it might be unconventional, but there’s someone in particular I’d really like to see receive that honor.

A lot of wonderful people have worked at the Laurel branch since 1967, and sadly, some of them are no longer with us. One such person I’ll forever associate with the library is a gentleman named Tom Acra.

Tom Acra, January 1993. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Tom Acra, January 1993. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Tom Acra and librarian Brenda Hill, January 1993. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Tom and librarian Brenda Hill, January 1993. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Tom was the quintessential jack of all trades. Admittedly, I don’t recall what his official job title was—whether it was “maintenance supervisor” or “building superintendent” or something along those lines; one thing was clear—Tom took care of the Laurel Library like it was his home, and the employees and patrons like they were his family. He was the first person to open the building each morning and the last to lock up and leave; and from his modest workshop in the basement, he had the tools and skills necessary to handle any task at hand. A pipe burst? Tom could fix it. He was always there for any such maintenance emergency, but more routinely, he handled custodial duties: buffing the tiles, vacuuming the carpets, washing the windows, dusting and wiping down the shelves, and more. In the winter, there were no snow plow teams to clear the parking lot—there was only Tom, with a single shovel, a bucket of ice melt, and that familiar, friendly voice of his, cautioning everyone who approached to be careful not to slip. “Aww yeeeaah… watch your step, there…”

Tom was one of the first friends I made when I started working at the library, and no matter how busy he was, he always had time to chat about the Redskins, an upcoming election, the weather, or a particular history book that had caught his eye over in section 973. (Yes, after all these years, I still can’t shake the Dewey Decimal System…)

Tom had started working at the library straight out of high school himself, and simply kept at it year after year—learning the nuances of the building and caring for it like no one else. He’d been part of the first massive rearrangement of books in 1977, and spearheaded the laborious task again in 1993 when the library expanded.

(Laurel Leader, August 4, 1977)

(Laurel Leader, August 4, 1977)

As the years went on and the PGCMLS budget tightened, Tom was utilized even more. I can recall clerical aide hiring freezes that lasted for a year or longer; during which time Tom would help our depleted team by reshelving books and stamping date due cards. More often than not, we never even had to go out to unload the book drop, because Tom had beaten us to it.

Before long, he’d even been recruited to man the circulation desk, and seemed to relish the time spent helping patrons check out their books and other materials. His was a familiar face at checkout time on Sundays, especially—when most staff members opted for Sundays off. (Yes, the library was actually open on Sundays back then—during the school year, at least.)

And it was with the patrons that Tom really connected, ironically. He wasn’t a librarian, or someone you’d expect to be a “people person”, but that’s precisely what he was. In fact, he was a natural at it—and he connected with people of all ages. Kids from the neighboring Grove would occasionally come into the library for a drink from the water fountain and a brief respite from the outside heat, and their voices would inevitably get louder—a bit too loud for a library. Whereas most adults would blow a gasket, Tom had a gentle way of approaching the kids; for one thing, he knew them all by name, and they knew him. And in a matter of seconds, he’d have them quietly perusing a book or magazine, and then happily on their way.

Yes, Tom Acra was much more to the Stanley Memorial Library than just a maintenance man. Taking care of the building and its denizens was more than just a job to him.

Tom passed away unexpectedly in February 2003 at the age of 50. And when his beloved old library is torn down in the next few weeks, I’m kind of grateful he won’t have to be here to witness it.

tom-acra-grave

But in closing, I would like to offer these simple suggestions to the Prince George’s County Board of Library Trustees:

  • Continue to honor the legacy of Charles H. Stanley by placing the rightful name, “Stanley Memorial Library” on the new building. If you wish to refer to it within the system as the “Laurel Library”, by all means do so—just as you always have. But please don’t try to remove or relegate his name and think people won’t notice… or mind.
  • If you’re considering honoring someone from the community with a small memorial plaque in the lobby, honor someone who truly did give their all to the library. Tom Acra wasn’t a wealthy benefactor or politician, and you won’t readily find his name in books or newspapers; but he certainly invested a lifetime of care and stewardship into our library, and I have no doubt he’d do the same for the new building.
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A Neighbor’s In Need: Let’s Help!

Last Fall, I was researching the history of Steward Manor Apartments when I stumbled across a photo on eBay.

Photo: John Floyd II, 1974.

It was part of a set of ten original prints being offered, which documented various vehicles from the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and Laurel Rescue Squad in the 1970s. This particular image featured Laurel Rescue 19 (also known as “The Heavy”) leaving its quarters and turning onto Lafayette Ave.; and there in the distance was the familiar southwest corner of my old neighborhood—Steward Manor Apartments. Even the old red Volkswagen Karmann Ghia I remember walking past so many times en route to 7-Eleven, Dart Drug, or the mall was captured—parked right there where I remember it always sitting.

I eagerly bought the photos; and having noticed several other sets for sale, I messaged the seller, John Floyd II, who manages a wonderfully eclectic eBay store—Blackpool Bertie’s Railway Shop. I wondered if perhaps he had any other vintage photos of Steward Manor in his collection. We chatted back and forth, as I explained the premise of my research. I learned that John was a former fireman, and over the years (both before and after his tenures with volunteer fire companies in Laurel and New Jersey) he had diligently photographed firefighting apparatus, training exercises, and countless fires and accident scenes. Aside from this one photo, he didn’t recall having any others of Steward Manor; because as he explained, the old complex was virtually fireproof. He promised to take a look through his archives, though, and would let me know if he came across anything.

In the meantime, I began to take note of some of the other photos he was selling—photos that in a roundabout way, captured images of the Laurel, MD I used to know. Behind the firetrucks were long-gone storefronts from Laurel Shopping Center… the old Fair Lanes bowling alley sign… and a number of stunning photos from the very first Main Street Festival in 1981. I eagerly bought these, as well; and in effect, they turned out to be the inspiration for starting Lost Laurel. You’ve undoubtedly seen these photos throughout the blog and Facebook page.

Over the past several months, John has not only contributed more invaluable photos and historic information, he has become a good friend.

He’s also a bit of living Laurel history, himself. As a young lad, (as he might say in his subtle British accent) he and his mother came to America in 1957, settling in Laurel in 1964. Not long thereafter, his mom met and wed Mr. Harry Fyffe, co-owner (with his brother Walter) of the legendary Fyffe’s Service Center that stood at Montgomery and 10th Streets for so many years. By his early teens, John was helping out behind the bar, eagerly pulling pints for the regulars!

Still living in Laurel, (he’s lived in the same modest home since childhood—going on 50 years) he’s an active civic booster for the community, and for the nearby Laurel Police Department in particular. He’s also a fine horn player, as well. That was him you may have seen carrying the big antique silver Sousaphone, marching along with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band in this year’s Main Street Festival parade!

John has already shared with me a wealth of knowledge and photos of vintage Laurel—the likes of which I could not possibly have come across on my own. In fact, I’ve merely scratched the surface in terms of curating his vast contributions for Lost Laurel. Wait until you get a load of some of the treasures he’s shared from the 1960s and earlier—who knew Pal Jack’s was once a Bendix and Philco radio shop?!

Main Street in the 1940s… (Photo courtesy John Floyd II, from the collection of Harry Fyffe)

…and the same spot in 2007. (Photo: John Floyd II)

I can say with certainty that without John’s help, there wouldn’t be a Lost Laurel.

Much has happened in just the eight months since I’ve started this project. I’ve been interviewed by the Laurel Leader, and I’ve seen the Lost Laurel Facebook page grow to over 1200 fans. I’ve watched the blog soar to over 24,000 views. That was the good news. The bad news is that I’ve also seen more of the old Laurel fall—literally, in the case of the recent demolition of the blue American National Bank building. Also closing for good were my beloved Laurel Art Center, and even the Laurel Mall—something I never dreamed would’ve occurred in my lifetime, having grown up in its heyday.

Coincidentally, who walked over to the mall to photograph and share with Lost Laurel the very first photos of the “permanently closed for business” signs on the locked doors? John Floyd did.

Photos: John Floyd II

Unfortunately, there’s more bad news looming. This one isn’t about a longtime business closing, or an iconic building being razed. This one affects John personally; and for him, it could certainly be the toughest loss of all. He’s at risk of losing his home.

After missing a property tax deadline, I’ve learned that John’s home was actually SOLD at the county’s annual Tax Auction in May. He now has a very small redemption window in which to pay off the tax penalty, otherwise he’ll lose everything.

John would never ask for any kind of charity himself, so I’m going to pitch in and try to help. In fact, I’ve already gotten an earful from him for simply suggesting this little benefit idea. But I have to believe that at least a few of the folks who follow Lost Laurel will sympathize, and find it in their hearts to contribute whatever they can. And this is just too important to not at least try.

Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that John has been in a very tight financial spot for quite some time now. He has been without a car for nearly a decade, which not only limits his general mobility, but effectively ended his regular occupation as a musician with various orchestras and dance bands, jazz and ragtime bands, brass bands, and other vintage-style musical ensembles. It was a career he enjoyed for 26 years, working several thousand gigs overall. But without transportation, that work dried up years ago. Likewise, he’s been unable to sell his wares at firemen’s conventions and trade shows—something else that once regularly supplemented his pay.
His eBay sales have become his sole means of income, making him entirely dependent upon the computer for all of his meager earnings.

And unfortunately, his sales have dropped dramatically (by over 60%) in the current recession. An emergency veterinary bill for one of his many cats set him back a hefty sum earlier this year, and that only added to the larger problem—trying to meet the overdue property tax bill to the tune of nearly $3,300. And if it’s not paid by June 30th, the amount will increase to over $7,000 when Prince George’s County adds the 2012 tax bill (along with interest and penalties, legal and court costs, as well as “advertising costs” for the Tax Auction that has put his home at risk). Finally, if the full amount isn’t paid by July 31st, his redemption window slams shut and the new property owners will be free to initiate foreclosure and eviction proceedings. It’s a process that’s every bit as harsh as it sounds.

There’s some irony here, too. As a homeowner, John isn’t eligible for any kind of public assistance—not that he’d willingly accept it. If he were to be evicted, however, he’d likely be free to receive any number of benefits. He doesn’t want those handouts; he simply wants to pay off his debts and remain in the only home he’s known for the past 46 years. I’m hoping we can help him do that.

Unfortunately, P.G. County isn’t flexible in the least. Nor are they interested in John’s or anyone else’s problems. There’s no negotiating with them on the amounts or the due dates. It’s literally all or nothing.

Knowing that most of us are so routinely asked to contribute to various charities—we donate to our kids’ fundraisers; we contribute to relay races for cancer research; we send money to groups who build homes for homeless families in foreign countries—I realize that the bombardment of solicitations can be draining; which is why I very rarely ask for such favors. But I’m going to ask an important favor now—on behalf of a good friend in a time of need who has done so much for Lost Laurel.

If you would, kindly donate whatever you can to John Floyd. His email address is royalbluelimited@aol.com, and it is set up to receive PayPal payments. It could be a little or a lot—every dollar adds up. Most importantly, you will know that your contribution isn’t going to some anonymous organization. It’s going directly toward helping a fellow Laurelite in need—and a genuinely good bloke, as John would say. It’ll literally help him save his home.

To help kickstart this benefit, I’m also going to be offering a few special Lost Laurel incentive prizes to those who donate the most.
• All
contributions of $25 and over will receive a full-size, double-sided reproduction of a classic Jack Delaney’s Irish Pizza Pub carryout menu from 1981.
• The first two contributions of $50 or more will receive an original 24″ x 36″ lushly illustrated poster map of Laurel from 1993.
• The first contribution of $100 or more will receive a limited edition Marian Quinn print of the iconic Cook’s Hardware building, matted and framed by the Laurel Art Center.
• And the first contribution of $250 or more will receive a framed 23″ x 30″ vintage 1990s illustration of Main Street businesses—which hung hidden for years in the Laurel Art Center.

These are but a few things that I can offer for what I would consider substantial donations, but I would strongly encourage everyone who reads this to consider sending any amount they can, no matter how small. It truly will help. Imagine if each one of our 1200+ Lost Laurel Facebook friends sent just a dollar or two—John’s crisis could be averted.

There are other ways that you can help, as well. Please visit John’s eBay shop (http://stores.ebay.com/blackpoolbertiesrailwayshop) and buy his stuff! If it’s not your proverbial cup of tea, perhaps you know someone who is a railroad buff, a firefighting enthusiast, and/or a brass band, vintage jazz, and big band music connoisseur—trust me, you’ll find something they’ll appreciate! It goes without saying that John’s eBay record is a spotless one—100% with over 4,350 positive feedbacks. He takes great pride and care in shipping his items quickly and securely, too, as I can attest.

Conversely, perhaps you have some items that you could donate to John’s store that HE may sell. That would also be a major help. Please message me, or feel free to contact John directly (royalbluelimited@aol.com) to make arrangements. Those who donate the amounts listed above can also request that I give their award items to John instead, so that he may sell them.

We’ve all come to accept that Laurel is an ever-changing landscape, and a far cry from the town we once knew. Businesses and residents alike have come and gone—some of their own accord, and others due to various hardships. This, however, is a uniquely tragic situation that I believe we can actually help prevent. Please join me and pitch in what you can. Let’s make sure Laurel doesn’t lose one of its truest citizens.

John Floyd II outside the Laurel Art Center in April, where he also went to photograph the closing of another Laurel icon.

Please donate via PayPal directly to royalbluelimited@aol.com

Many thanks!!

~ ®

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