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From where I stand: My time at Riversdale

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Posted on: August 15, 2022

BY MARCUS SUERO

When I was younger, my family would occasionally drive by this mansion in Riverdale. Such a large house with so much land seemed foreign to me, a child from a small home in Northwest D.C. 

Later, as a college student, I discovered that the house was a museum with an interesting history, and that the museum was looking for interns from Bowie State University. 

Once I made the connection, I jumped at the chance to apply. 

Interning at the Riversdale House Museum was extraordinary. My job over the summer was transcribing and digitizing Calvert family papers, mostly financial and personal diaries of Charles Benedict Calvert around the mid-1800s. 

I stepped into another time period, experiencing Calvert’s day-to-day transactions and dealings with people from other well-known families in the area, and learning about him in the process. 

Calvert was instrumental in founding the University of Maryland, and as a result, he kept financial records of the school, including records of some of the first students who attended. Some were the children of prominent members of society, such as doctors and military officers. As a history student, I would love to follow up to see where some of those first students ended up. 

In one diary entry, Calvert described a meteor shower in January of 1860. An amateur astronomer myself, I found it fascinating that although he was a very busy man, Calvert could find the time to take notes on the amazing view.

One aspect of the museum’s work that really caught my interest was the staff at Riversdale’s attempts to tell the stories of the enslaved population living on the premises at the time Calvert was writing those diaries. 

Although the staff’s work is far from complete, they saw this as one of their most important tasks. Learning how the enslaved prepared food, as well as how and where they grew that food was interesting. The garden in front of the mansion has been cultivated to resemble what some of the enslaved might have been able to grow on the property.

Staff have been working to uncover the whereabouts of the quarters used to house the enslaved, which are thought to be scattered all around Riverdale and College Park.

For me, as an African American, it is new to see, in a small museum setting, a focus on the contributions of those who look like me. Acknowledging the contributions that enslaved people have made to the success of these family homes and businesses is crucial in explaining the history of this country. 

I hope to get into archival or curatorial museum work professionally after going to graduate school. There is something special about being able to interact on a physical level with an object that may have been written or made by someone almost 200 years prior. 

I want to work to help uncover the stories of the enslaved that would otherwise be lost. I feel that it is my duty as an African American and a future historian to uncover the truth of how we contributed to the development of the United States. 

At Bowie State University, a historically black university, I have learned that there are aspects of African American history that may not be known, and it is up to us to learn about them. I am grateful for my internship at the Riversdale House Museum and for the knowledge I gained from its wonderful staff. I hope to work with them as a staff colleague, rather than an intern, next time.

Marcus Suero is a summer intern at the Riversdale House Museum. 

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