Brownsville of Frostburg
The following three narratives are taken from three different publications. They describe the African-American community of "Brownsville", which was once situated on portions of the present-day Frostburg State University campus. The following is from an article by James Limbaugh appearing in, A Century of Commitment - Frostburg State University, 1898-1998:
Brownsville - Inextricably linked to the history of the founding and growth of Frostburg State University is the story of the community of Brownsville.
The Normal School's first building, Old Main, was positioned in Beall's Park to face Loo Street (now known as College Avenue) and to look down Wood Street toward the center of Frostburg. At Old Main's back door was Brownsville, a predominantly African-American community that was settled after the Civil War and which by 1920 had a population of approximately 125 families. Homes and gardens were clustered along Oak Street, which originally ran directly behind Old Main (the rear of Frost Hall and Cook Chapel now sit astride Oak Street's path.) Maple Street, which then extended to the south of College Avenue through the current location of Lowndes Hall, and the two alleys that bordered Beall's Park provided additional sites for housing to the south of the Normal School. Park Avenue, the main intersecting street of Brownsville, served as the primary community thoroughfare, running roughly east to west along the site now occupied by Compton Hall. The southern extension of Beall Street, which is the foundation of the route now loosely followed by the northern portion of Loop Road, Led to neighborhoods that flourished on sites where Gunter Hall and Framptom Hall now stand.
Officially listed as Beall's Addition No. 1 in early city records, the area became known as Brownsville as the result of the purchase of Lot No. 1 by Tamar Brown to construct a school for African-American children. Freed from slavery before the Civil War and taught to read and write by Quakers, Brown was not a teacher; rather, she was a laundress by trade. However, she was determined that the children of the African-American miners, stable hands, and laborers residing in Frostburg would receive a basic education. In December, 1866, Brown paid $250 for the lot and immediately arranged for the construction of one-room schoolhouse which was located on the north side of Park Avenue, on the site now occupied by Gunter Hall. Opening in 1867, the school - which soon became known as Lincoln School -served as a magnet for African-American families who had come to Frostburg, and they soon settled in homes throughout Brownsville.
As Brownsville grew, so too did the sense of community and family. Mary Ann Paige White, born in 1910 and a life long resident of Frostburg and Brownsville, remembers skipping rope and playing games along Park Avenue under the watchful eyes of parents and friends with the outline of Old Main looming prominently on the northern horizon. Long afternoons were spent swimming in Sandy Springs Run or playing in the fruit trees and woods of the Buckwheat (the small mountain that now serves as the site of the intramural fields). A baseball field, located on the site now occupied by the Fine Arts Building, provided the only truly integrated location in Frostburg, as residents from across the city engaged in countless games throughout the summer months.
Similar lives, goals, and problems were threads that bound together the families of Brownsville. The majority of the men were coal miners, stable hands, or laborers, while women supplemented family income through taking in wash or hiring out as scrubwomen or domestics. A common concern about religious well-being led to the residents' founding and construction John Wesley Church, originally located at the intersection of Oak Street and Maple Street on the current site of Lowndes Hall.
By the late 1920s, however, the community was being slowly chipped away by the growth of the Normal School. The construction of Allegany Hall in 1927 and a new laboratory school in 1930 claimed several homes to the east of the campus. Residences on Oak Street were leveled after World War Two to accommodate the expansion of Frost Hall, the construction of Lowndes Hall, and the creation of athletic fields behind Old Main. The continued southern expansion of the College saw Lincoln School and the homes of Park Avenue demolished by 1955 to make way for Compton, Allen and Simpson Halls. A new school-also known as the Lincoln School, and the current home of the University's Public Safety office-was constructed in the late 1950s. However, the building was used for only two years until national integration laws reassigned students to other Frostburg elementary schools.
Aerial photographs of the mid-1960s still showed a scattering of residences below Compton Hall, but by 1968 these had been removed to accommodate construction of the Fine Arts Building, Tawes Hall and Dunkle Hall. Meanwhile, the John Wesley Church, after having its property twice purchased by the State, rebuilt on property to the south of Park Avenue and Beall Elementary School. This site is now known as the "Mustard Seed."
After the State's purchase of their property, many families left the area, heading for such cities as Uniontown, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Washington. Elderly residents moved in with other family members in Frostburg or elsewhere. With the additional purchase of property to construct Gunter Hall, Frampton Hall, the Fine Arts/Dunkle complex, and expanded parking, the greater part of Brownsville was absorbed into the College.
Today virtually all vestiges of Brownsville have disappeared. However, descendants of Brownsville residents still live on Loop Road across from Framptom Hall, maintaining an important link to the University's past.
The following is an excerpt from, Frostburg State College: A Monument to Miners", by Betty Van Newkirk, 1996:
The College campus continued to grow, as the enrollment also increased. Along the southern side of Park Avenue, as far as Midlothian Road on the east and Beall Street on the west, there were closely-built small houses, the remnants of what had been called Brownsville.
Unfortunately, as these dwellings were bought up there was no local housing available for the occupants, whether they were looking for places to buy or space to rent. The townspeople who had supported chicken dinners prepared by the John Wesley congregation, praised the coconut cream pies baked by Mrs. Jackson, or bought moonshine at the Cotton Club, were unwilling to have these same individuals as neighbors, and the late 1950s found them forced out of the community.
The frame schoolhouse which had been moved across Park Avenue in 1936 was torn down, replaced by a two-room brick building a short distance away which, the local schoolboard hoped, would prove so attractive that black families would opt to send their children there instead of asking for their admittance to the white schools. The Wesley Methodist basement was bought, as the College expanded westward, and the congregation erected a chapel near the new Lincoln School. The few black children whose families stayed in Frostburg were integrated into the local white schools as soon as the law opened the necessary doors, and the Wesley members joined the Methodist church on Main Street.
Desegregation took place in the community without hostile confrontations, but the State and County authorities deserve no credit for their role in those events.
The following is an excerpt from an article entitled, "Frostburg is truly 'The Friendly City'" which appeared in the Cumberland Times-News, October 19, 2006 and written by Betty Van NewKirk:
"To a certain extent, black people were accepted in the community. Black and white children played together, although they had to go to different schools. Everyone went to the fund-raising chicken dinners at the black church on Park Avenue, and bought Mrs. Jackson's pies for company dinners. Tamar Brown, a freedwoman, had owned property where Gunter Hall stands today. She is credited with establishing a school (for black children) and a church, and the neighborhood of Brownsville was named in her honor. But when the college expanded across Park Avenue, the state bought the land from white owners, and the black renters were dispossessed and discovered that they could not rent or buy other property in Frostburg. They had no choice but to move to Akron or Rochester in New York."
Photographs - Curtis Flying Services - Photo Division
The two circa 1930s aerial photographs depict the campus looking south and east and the Brownsville community site generally situated behind Old Main. Note the old John Wesley Methodist Church as described in the narrative.
Photographs taken by Cutlass Flying Service are from Special Collections, Lewis J. Ort Library, Frostburg State University.
An obituary for Mary Ann Paige White appears elsewhere on this website.
Allegany County, Maryland
African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.
Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008