Sunday, October 19, 2008

Religious Freedom Scenic Byway

This Tuesday, October 21, the County Commissioners for St. Mary's County will hear about a draft management plan for a proposed religious freedom scenic byway that will take in much of St. Mary's and Charles counties. The Charles County Commissioners have already approved the plan. Assuming St. Mary's approves it, the nomination and plan go to the Federal Highway Administration which, the advisory committee is confident, they will approve.

Precisely what happens after that, and how it will benefit Port Tobacco and other historic sites in the County, I'm not sure. Certainly scenic byway status will attract funds for advertising the sites. Unfortunately, the historic sites in Charles County, Port Tobacco included, need more than advertising...they need capital investment. Needless to say, the timing for seeking such monies couldn't be worse...well, not much worse at any rate.

Port Tobacco's place in the scenic byway, given the religious freedom theme, was not clear last year and in the first half of 2008; but the unanticipated discovery of the Colonial period cemetery last October and its partial exposure last June, and the likelihood of finding the first Anglican church nearby, improves our chances of contributing to the scenic byway.

The spiritual life of Port Tobacco is not something the PTAP team has looked at very closely. After all, we went into this venture expecting to investigate a port town, not generally considered a hotbed of religious sentiment. Researchers are likely to find more drinking establishments and brothels than churches in busy port towns, but there were churches in Port Tobacco and the Catholic church, St. Ignatius, is just down the road. Spirituality is certainly a dimension of Port Tobacco life that we must, and will, investigate. Whether religious freedom or religious conflict best describes our findings, ultimately, remains to be seen.


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