Garden City movement inspires student documentary

May 09, 2010|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Clara Hamilton was ahead of her time, with her plan for what is now known as the Oak Hill Historic District in Hagerstown's North End.

Even though she lived from 1837 to 1919, her ideas would fit in with the current interest in home gardens, green technology and healthier lifestyles.

Hamilton's development plan came from the Garden City movement started in England in 1898, and she started putting it into action in Hagerstown in 1909. It focused on the preservation of trees, land for home-based gardens for healthier eating and a walk-to-work concept.

A new generation of Washington County students now knows about Hamilton's efforts, thanks to a Maryland History Day project. This year's theme was "Innovation in History: Impact and Change."


As part of a course requirement for Advanced Placement U.S. History, four Washington County Technical High School students -- Heaven Burkhammer, Christine Johnson, Hannah Leizear and Kenise Lewis -- were feeling the stress as the last group in their class to pick a project topic.

Nothing seemed to be clicking and multiple snow days slowed the group's progress. Their teacher, Rossana Larrick, had heard about Hamilton's efforts through a friend of hers, Rebecca Rush.

Rush recently moved to Hagerstown and knew of the Oak Hill Historic District through her work with the Land and Cultural Preservation Fund, which is headquartered in Frederick, Md.

It was a topic that caught the girls' attention and although they could focus on something of national interest, they liked the local connection.

"It was a peaceful anti-industrial resistance," Lewis said of Hamilton's movement.

The four seniors juggled work and internships to find time to work on the project just about every day for three weeks. Most of it was done out of class, and adding to that challenge was the fact that two of the students live in Hagerstown and two are from Clear Spring.

The girls divided the tasks to create an almost 10-minute documentary. There was research to be done, photographs to be taken, a script and bibliography to write, and lots of editing to be done.

One of the girls was assigned the task of interviewing Steve Sager, who was mayor of Hagerstown in 1987 when the Oak Hill neighborhood was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

"There was a lot of stress putting it together," Burkhammer said.

"I was still burning CDs the night before," Leizear said.

The documentary, titled "Hamimlton Plants a Seed: The Garden City Movement of Hagerstown," won first place for high school documentary -- group in the Washington County competition for Maryland History Day. A little more editing was required before it went on to the state level, although it did not place at that level. That version will be sent to the State Women's History project, in which Rush is involved.

The girls presented their research and showed their documentary on May 3 at the Women's Club on South Prospect Street in Hagerstown. Other venues, such as the local-access TV station, are being considered.

"With this documentary, Hannah, Heaven, Christine and Kenise have become real historians," Larrick wrote in an e-mail. "They brought a piece of local history alive -- something that very few people actually knew about our hometown. They worked together to analyze and interpret documents and primary sources, they conducted interviews and their documentary became a true group effort.

"I am very proud of their work and their efforts, and how composed they were during the judges' interviews at both county and state level competition.This is why the National History Day program is so valuable -- it keeps history important."

The state contest was at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, on April 24. The top two county winners, and in some cases the top three, for each category advanced. More than 500 students competed.

Washington County student Sarah Eckstine from Springfield Middle School won the Barry A. Lanman Award for oral history, sponsored by John D. Williard V (of the Maryland Humanities Council), for her exhibit "Tractors: Rolling Through Time." Her teacher was Linda Martin.

Ginger Scally, social studies Teacher at E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown, received two awards for her leadership in the Maryland History Day program. In addition to being named the Washington County District History Teacher of the Year, she was also given the statewide Patricia Behring Middle School Teacher of the Year Award.

"The Maryland Humanities Council is so proud of our state winners," said Executive Director Phoebe Stein Davis. "They've worked so hard for the past year on their projects, and we hope that our winners go on to win awards at the national competition in June."

Participants in History Day underwent a yearlong process of intensive research and competitions at the county level. Students conduct research at libraries, museums and historic sites, and through oral history interviews, and present their findings in one of five categories: papers, performances, documentaries, websites and exhibits.

A complete list of students and teachers honored at the state contest can be found on the Maryland Humanities Council website at

The Herald-Mail Articles