In this guest post, Frederick County preservationist Kelly White updates the broader preservation community about the work to revitalize and preserve historic Brunswick, a small city of nearly 6,000 in western Maryland. 

After hosting a panel presentation by Preservation Maryland and 1000 Friends of Maryland in December, historic preservation has continued to be on the mind of many of the citizens of Brunswick. Attendees to the panel, held at Smoketown Brewing Station, gathered to learn about downtown preservation and revitalization options after discussions about Railroad Square, a proposed 51-unit workforce housing development project, included plans to demolish three historic properties in the downtown historic district in Brunswick, including the J.P. Karns lumber mill and two other houses on S. Maple Avenue which are currently vacant. One of the houses is believed to be a log cabin older than its 1910 recorded building date and was also featured in a scene from the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project.

Downtown Brunswicka designated Main Street communityis home to many historic buildings, some of which are well-preserved examples of late 19th and early 20th century architecture. Locals are concerned not only about the specific buildings slated for proposed demolition, but the overall Main Street streetscape and atmosphere. In March of this year, the Mayor and Council approved a budget item to hire a new full-time Main Street manager, an unprecedented move for the city as previous managers have only been part-time, or have shared duties with the Economic Development Coordinator. The Mayor and Council stated that their decision, in part, was to show their commitment to Brunswick’s downtown revitalization.

In addition, the Mayor and Council used funds received from a state grant to hire an urban planning consultant to help develop a Small Area Plan for the downtown area. Citizens attended a short presentation by the urban planner who encouraged city officials and staff to provide many opportunities for public input including a questionnaire and open public workshops. Officials agreed that they would not like to move forward with adopting the plan without input from Brunswick’s citizens. Residents should expect a distribution of the questionnaire in the near future, with public workshops to follow soon after.

The Potomac River at Berlin (now Brunswick) Maryland. Ca. 1890. Library of Congress.

The Potomac River at Berlin (now Brunswick) Maryland. Ca. 1890. Library of Congress.

On the theme of public input, a group of interested citizens have been in communication since the Preservation Maryland led panel presentation and consistently attend the bi-weekly Mayor and Council meetings. Some have been very vocal about the Railroad Square project and its effect on the downtown area during the citizens’ forums, voicing environmental, parking, infrastructure and traffic concerns along with the issue of historic preservation. In addition, several citizens have begun to consider running for elected office on the Town Council to help lead the revitalization efforts from within government.

Brunswick remains at a critical crossroads where heritage and preservation are concerned. The proposed apartment complex, the organizational changes of the Main Street organization, the Small Area Plan and the soon-to-be available Council seats are all current opportunities for citizens to get involved and make a difference for the future of the city. All opportunities that have received increased attention since the initial panel presentation in late 2017.

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