Lawmakers clash over Western Md. mountain names

February 11, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

ANNAPOLIS — A state senator who wants new names for Negro Mountain and Polish Mountain in Western Maryland said it was former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s idea.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore City, said she and Taylor have talked about Negro Mountain — which was named after a heroic black man — and the negative connotation since she first saw it 13 years ago.

Gladden said Taylor — a Democrat who lost his delegate seat to Republican LeRoy E. Myers Jr. in 2002 — urged her to propose a resolution urging a new name.

"This year, he came to me and said, 'Put the bill in, and I will be your sponsor.' It's Cas's bill," Gladden said.

"That's simply not true," Taylor replied on Friday.

But he acknowledged that he and Gladden have talked about the mountain name over the years.

"She obviously took a new approach this year, which I knew nothing about," he said.

Taylor, who is white, said a man's name, not race, would have been better, but "any intelligent individual would agree" the name was meant as an honor.

If the state considers a change, that's fine, Taylor said, but he didn't ask Gladden to pursue a resolution and claiming he did is "a stretch."

Gladden, who is black, filed a joint resolution for a state commission to pick new names for Negro Mountain in Garrett County and Polish Mountain in Allegany County "to reflect more accurately the history and culture of the region within which they are located."

Western Maryland state lawmakers are pushing back, saying the names can be explained.

A historical sign reads that Negro Mountain was named after a black man called Nemesis, who was killed "while fighting Indians with Maryland frontiersman Thomas Cresap in the 1750s."

A book called "History of Western Maryland" described Nemesis as Cresap's "body-servant" who had a premonition he might not return from the fight.

"Fighting bravely at his master's side, Nemesis was slain and buried on the mountain, which has since borne the name of his race," the book said.

Polish Mountain originally had a slightly longer name, according to 18th-century land records: Polished (or Polish'd) Mountain.

Western Maryland historian Albert Feldstein said "polished" is thought to refer to rocks reflecting the sun. Over the years, the "ed" faded away and people have pronounced it "Polish," as if related to Poland.

Gladden's resolution, which has eight other Senate co-sponsors, has outraged Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, who called it "political correctness running amok."

Kelly said Gladden shouldn't make assertions about the culture of Western Maryland.

If she's looking for possibly offensive names, why not the United Negro College Fund or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Kelly, who is white.

"That's history and it's not derogatory," said Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, who also opposes Gladden's resolution. "It's an honor thing back at the time."

A Senate committee is scheduled to hear Gladden's proposal on Feb. 22. Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, D-Baltimore City, has filed a House version.

Shortly after Gladden was elected as a delegate in 1998, she said she was surprised by the Negro Mountain sign while on a statewide tour for freshmen lawmakers and asked Taylor about it then and several times since then.

Although it's not her district, Maryland is her state, Gladden said.

"I should feel compelled to make it the best it can be for the rest of the country ...," she said. "It's a statement about who we are as a state."

She said she has heard a story about how Polish Mountain might have gotten its name, but she hasn't researched it. She said that she's considering adding the Savage Mountains in Garrett County to her proposal.

There have been other attempts to change the name of Negro Mountain, which extends into Pennsylvania.

In 1992, someone asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names if the name could become "Black Hero Mountain," but the board rejected the idea in 1994, "siding with local and State government agencies who were against changing a long standing name which was intended to honor a local individual," the board's website said.

In 2007, a Pennsylvania state representative called for a study of the battle at Negro Mountain and also tried to have the name changed.

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