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Josiah Henson Park – Facility Plan

Division: Park Development

Project Description

The Josiah Henson Park is a 1.43-acre historic park property located at 11420 Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda, Maryland. It consists of a small portion of the original Riley plantation where Reverend Josiah Henson lived and worked as a slave from 1795 to 1830.  Henson’s 1849 autobiography inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The Department of Parks intends to convert the site and historic buildings to a public historic/cultural park and house museum with an interpretive program to honor the man. After years of enslavement, Josiah Henson escaped to freedom in Canada on the Underground Railroad and later published his memoirs that were a key source for Mrs. Stowe’s story.

The Department of Parks is committed to excellent stewardship of this resource because of its historical associations with slavery and the slave experience in Montgomery County. The Park Development Division is working with a team of consulting architects, engineers, and interpretive program planners to complete a Facility Plan level of work to develop, preserve, rehabilitate, and restore the park site and buildings.

A Facility Plan project typically completes 30% of initial programming and design-related activities, including sub-phases called preliminary design, schematic design, and design development. Historic background and thematic material previously compiled in a Historic Structures Report and Park Master Plan will be incorporated as appropriate into this project. Once complete, the Facility Plan requires approval by the Planning Board and County Council before additional funding can be appropriated in the Capital Improvement Program for subsequent final design and construction phases.

The Riley/Bolten house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its historic significance.  It is considered to have irreplaceable cultural, material, and aesthetic value.  The work described is funded in part by Save America’s Treasure grant, which is subject to having all work items meet The Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.  (


The park is currently open to the public only during special events held several times a year by the Cultural Resources Stewardship Section of the Park Planning and Stewardship Division. To find links to the Josiah Henson autobiographies and other information, go to the Josiah Henson website.

Prior Projects

A Master Plan for the park was completed and approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board on December 2, 2010.  For more information, go to Josiah Henson Special Park Master Plan.

A Historic Structures Report for the park was completed in June 2008.  For more information on the HSR, go to Riley House/Josiah Henson Site Historic Structures Report.


The Josiah Henson Park (formerly called the “Riley Farm/Uncle Tom’s Cabin Special Park”) is comprised of two parcels of land acquired from private citizens by Montgomery County for park use. The first parcel, at 11420 Old Georgetown Road, was in private ownership for its entire history until it was acquired in January 2006. It consists of the historic “Riley/Bolten House” (an 1800-1815 wood frame, two-story house) and the log kitchen (an 1850 one-story wing), both remodeled in 1936 by architect Lorenzo Winslow. The property also features a detached “non-contributing” one-car garage that postdates the historical significance of the site and landscaping and mature trees that primarily date to the second half of the 20th century. The site is designated as an individual resource on the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. As such, it is protected under local preservation law as a Historic Site where exterior changes require review by the Historic Preservation Commission. The Riley/Bolten House is also listed on the prestigious National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. The second parcel, at 11410 Old Georgetown Road, was purchased in July 2009. Its house and garage were not historically significant. As envisioned in the approved Park Master Plan, they were demolished by Parks in June 2011 to make room for a future bus drop off, small parking lot, and visitor orientation building.

Josiah Henson Park is the former plantation property where Josiah Henson was enslaved.

Ongoing archaeological excavations seek to find where Josiah Henson may have lived on the site. Josiah Henson’s quarters, described by him in his autobiography as a “log hut,” and part of a “village of log huts” was located somewhere on the plantation grounds.

The house in the park that stands is the slave-owning family’s house, the Riley House, dating from 1800-1815. It is also known as the Riley/Bolten House for its later owners as well and is listed as such on the National Register of Historic Places.

That house features an attached log kitchen that has been dated by tree-ring analysis to 1850. Given that 1850 is after Henson’s 1830 escape to Canada, but before emancipation in Maryland, it is assumed that enslaved people, such as a cook, would have worked in the kitchen and that the cook’s family slept in a loft above the kitchen, which was known to exist, but is now removed.

The log kitchen also is the site of an interior archaeological dig, which has discovered three previous earthen floors inside the kitchen space. These earlier dirt floors indicate the presence of an earlier kitchen that stood on the very same spot as the current one. It is probable, therefore, that the kitchen space represents where Henson recalled being forced to sleep upon his return to the plantation from Kentucky in 1828.

Status/Project Update

The facility plan project received a $100,000 Save America’s Treasurer’s grant from the National Park Service (NPS). The grant required the project to go through Section 106 review at the Maryland State Historic Preservation Office (MD-SHPO). The grant also required a covenant that the local Historic Preservation Commission will hold on the historic parcel at 11420 Georgetown Road.

The scope of work for architecture and engineering services was awarded to LSC Design of York, Pennsylvania. The scope of work for interpretive program exhibit planning was awarded to Experience Design of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

The project concluded when the final Facility Plan work was presented to the Montgomery County Planning Board on June 6, 2013. (See calendar below)

Calendar and Meeting Notes

Links to review meeting notes and Planning Board memos will be attached to each applicable calendar event as it is scheduled and completed.

January 2011 Initiate facility plan
March 2011 Preliminary Design Phase (pre-design and site analysis)
– Architecture/Engineering
– Interpretive Program
May 26 – June 30, 2011 Visitor Survey CLOSED Online
June 26, 2011
12:00pm – 4:00pm
Montgomery County Heritage Days Open House
Meet the exhibit design team and comment on the interpretive program concepts for the future facility.
Explore an archaeology dig with Parks’ archaeologists. Tours every half hour from noon to 3:30 p.m.
Learn more about Heritage Days
Josiah Henson Special Park
11420 Old Georgetown Road
Rockville, MD
*Park at the Montgomery Aquatic Center at 5900 Executive Boulevard
October 2011 MCPS Teacher Survey (4th and 8th grade) CLOSED Online
Spring 2012 Preliminary Design Sub-phase, Historic Regulatory Review
The Maryland Historical Trust determined that this undertaking will have no adverse effect on historic properties (June 8, 2012)
– Historic Preservation Commission (HPC)
June 27, 2012
7:30 p.m.
Historic Preservation Commission hearing
Preliminary Consultation on Preliminary Phase Design documents
– Read the agenda (Item II)
– Read the staff report
Montgomery Regional Office
8787 Georgia Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Summer/Fall 2012 Schematic Design sub-phase
February 4, 2013
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Community Meeting
– View presentation
Tilden Middle School
11211 Old Georgetown Road
Rockville, MD 20852
March – April 2013 Design Development sub-phase
May 2013 Finalize Facility Plan
June 6, 2013 Planning Board Meeting – Approved the final facility plan project work
Read the staff memo
Montgomery Regional Office
8787 Georgia Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910

M-NCPPC Staff Contact:

Eileen Emmet, Project Manager
(301) 495-2550

Last Updated: November 9, 2020