The campus of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland, contains thousands of acres of protected land along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The Smithsonian Institution (SI) retained BCA to perform a study of select historic assets on the campus. These assets, the Contee Farm Complex and the Sellman Tenant House, are monuments to the site’s long history of agriculture, and they stand in a landscape from which the visible legacy of hundreds of years of farming is slowly disappearing. The two sites date to different eras and tell separate (though intertwining) stories, but they are connected by the thread of farming and the labor it entails.
The goals of the study were to research, document, and assess the Contee Farm Complex and Sellman Tenant House and to compile the findings to produce a Historic Context Study (HCS). BCA performed extensive archival research, conducted interviews with former owners and residents, and physically investigated the site to develop a more complete understanding of the buildings, their connection to the site, and their importance in the overall context of agricultural history. The HCS prepared by BCA provides a baseline level of historical and architectural documentation, creates a narrative of each asset’s history and significance, and offers recommendations for further research. The study made recommendations for emergency stabilization of the Sellman Tenant House and identified which buildings within the Contee Farm Complex—some of which were in a state of ruin—were potentially salvageable. The HCS also made recommendations for interpreting the house and farm buildings to the public.