Josiah Henson Museum and Park Opens on April 23
Montgomery Parks has announced the opening of Josiah Henson Museum and Park on April 23, 2021. The museum and park are located at 11410 Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda, on the site of the former plantation where Henson was enslaved from 1795 – 1830. The museum is open Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are required for admission and must be purchased online.
The Josiah Henson Museum and Park tells the inspirational life story of Reverend Josiah Henson, who was born into slavery yet defied the odds to become an influential author, abolitionist, minister, public speaker, and a world-renowned figure. One of Henson’s many accomplishments was his 1849 autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, which inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
“I’m proud that Maryland’s 8th District is home to the new Josiah Henson Museum and Park,” said Congressman Jamie Raskin. “This vivid retelling of the extraordinary life and legacy of Josiah Henson will help us bring to life African-American history in Montgomery County and across Maryland. I thank Montgomery Parks and Montgomery County for researching and uplifting the untold stories of our African-American community, and I look forward to visiting and promoting the museum.”
“Josiah Henson was a remarkable man, and I am thrilled that we can preserve and amplify his legacy through this new museum. The museum is a resource of not only local significance but national importance. It is the only archaeology-based museum in the country dedicated to telling the story of African American enslavement. I encourage everyone to plan a visit,” said Mike Riley, Director, Montgomery Parks.
The Josiah Henson Museum & Park includes:
- The Riley/Bolten House which dates to1800-1815 and its attached log kitchen which dates to 1850. These historic structures have been rehabilitated and now feature both traditional and multimediaexhibits, incorporating archaeological artifacts found onsite.
- A newly constructed 3,000 square-foot visitor center which includes an auditorium with an orientation film, gift shop, restrooms, and observation terrace.
- A 4-acre landscaped park with an accessible walking path featuring outdoor interpretive exhibits, and archaeological features.
Throughout the museum and park, Henson’s story is dramatically recounted through film, audio recordings, archaeological artifacts, graphics, and custom illustrations by artists. The experience transports visitors back in time and evokes moments of emotion and reflection. In addition to interpreting Reverend Henson’s life story, the museum also educates visitors about the history of enslavement in Montgomery County and the ongoing struggles for racial equity and justice.
“Our family is absolutely thrilled with the completion of the museum,” said Mia M. Lewis, a descendent of Josiah Henson. “My hope is that people will come to understand who the Rev. Josiah Henson truly was, a man of tremendous strength, intelligence, loyalty, and of great faith.”
The Josiah Henson Museum and Park is open Friday through Sunday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Tickets are required and can be purchased in advance online. In accordance with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, admission is limited to your reserved timeslot and masks are required. Visitor parking is available at Wall Local Park, 5900 Executive Blvd., N. Bethesda. There are a limited number of accessible parking spots on-site for permit holders at 11410 Old Georgetown Road.
Josiah Henson’s Life and Legacy
Josiah Henson was born into slavery in Charles County, Maryland on June 15, 1789. After being sold separately from his mother and siblings at the auction block, he was eventually traded to Isaac Riley and worked alongside his mother on the Riley plantation from 1795 – 1830. The plantation was located along what is now Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda. Through hard work and acumen, Henson rose to become the plantation superintendent. He also found Christianity after attending a sermon given by an itinerant preacher at the nearby Newport Mill.
Henson became an ordained Methodist minister and after suffering the violence and cruelty of four decades of chattel slavery, escaped to Canada on foot in 1830 with his wife and four children. There he helped established Dawn Settlement, a community inhabited by those formerly enslaved in the United States, continued his work in the Methodist ministry, and became an international speaker and abolitionist. Henson continued the fight for freedom, leading 118 people from enslavement in the United States to freedom in Canada as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
In 1849, Henson published his autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, which vividly depicted his experience of enslaved life in Maryland and Kentucky. The book inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s groundbreaking fictional novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which broke all sales records of the time and sold more than half a million copies by 1857. Uncle Tom’s Cabininspired the abolitionist movement in the mid-nineteenth century, and many believe the novel helped propel the country into civil war. Henson’s later work as a renowned speaker and author garnered him invitations both to the White House and Windsor Castle in London, England.
A Project 15 Years in the Making
In January 2006, Montgomery Parks acquired the property located at 11420 Old Georgetown Road from private ownership. The property included the Riley/Bolten House which dates to 1800-1815, and its attached log kitchen which dates to 1850. Modifications were made to the tidewater plantation house in the 1930s by White House architect Lorenzo Winslow in the Colonial Revival Style. Four adjoining parcels of land were acquired in subsequent years to create a nearly-4-acre park. The park first opened to the public in 2006. Parks staff conducted archaeological excavations for the past 10 years that have yielded over 50,000 artifacts. In addition to excavations, Parks staff hosted school programs based on archaeology, and led historic interpretive public programs about Henson’s life and the African American experience. In 2011, Parks staff wrote and submitted the nomination to list the Riley/Bolten House onthe National Register of Historic Places for its historic significance. The historic house has been listed on the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation since 1979.
In June 2013, The Montgomery County Planning Board approved the Josiah Henson Park Facility Plan. The facility plan called for rehabilitating the Riley/Bolten House and converting it into a public museum, as well as building a new 3,000 square-foot visitor center and making the site more accessible to visitors.Funding for the project included: Montgomery County funds, State of Maryland funds, Federal funds, and private donations. The total project cost was $8.8 million dollars. Construction began in 2018 and was completed in February 2021.
The Josiah Henson Museum and Park is part of the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.