When most people think of preservation, the tangible comes to mind: saving a storied 19th-century structure or a physical space that radiates historic charm. Here at Preservation Maryland our work is as much about the intangible as we work to protect all of Maryland’s rich heritage – meaning physical pieces of our history, like buildings, as well as those parts of history you can’t touch, like historical knowledge or personal experiences. Preservation is a tool for a more equitable future and, although not overt, preserving the intangible aspects of communities is dependent on updating infrastructure that allows those spaces to remain vibrant and livable.

Preservation Maryland, The Robert W. Johnson Community Center, and local partners are combining efforts to see long-needed broadband upgrades come to the Jonathan Street neighborhood in Hagerstown.

Strengthening Communities  

The effects of the pandemic highlighted numerous socioeconomic and racial disparities worldwide, such as student access to virtual, high-quality education, community residents having access to healthcare and information, and stable employment opportunities. This was no less true for many in the Jonathan Street community, whose challenges were further exacerbated by a lack of internet at home. Many families rely upon the connection accessed through their mobile devices, making navigating a pandemic that forced most of our interactions online that much more difficult. Mobile phones are not sustainable options for school or work assignments, and the internet service they may provide is not adequate for school or work-supplied tablets and laptops.

The Community Center saw the critical role access to high-speed and functional internet plays not only in lifting up a community but in day-to-day life. In response, the Center opened for those families and students needing access and instruction, but this increased dependence on internet brought on by the pandemic (and which is unlikely to decline) showed that enhanced broadband capacity and device availability is crucial. 

Preservation Maryland, already in the community working on the log cabin at 417 N. Jonathan Street, and the Center teamed up to apply for a grant from the Office of Statewide Broadband to facilitate updates to the Center’s broadband infrastructure and electronic equipment. The grant was awarded and the broadband service has already been upgraded; next steps are equipment upgrades – like new computers, software, and printers – and scheduling a series of workshops so the resources are accessible to the Jonathan Street community. With new broadband infrastructure providing a faster and stronger connection, the Community Center will be able to further enrich the services it provides for the Jonathan Street neighborhood, addressing:

  • Economic Development: enhancing employability by assisting in tech/digital skill development
  • Inclusion and Equity: serving as a neighborhood hub for online tutoring, virtual education, and internet access for local entrepreneurs and job seekers
  • Tech Education and Literacy: teaching technical literacy to senior residents to increase access to healthcare, records, information, and means of communication

Broadband is Revitalization; Revitalization is Preservation

Revitalization is intended to improve quality of life for residents, to create a place that is desirable and reflective of local character.

“Preservation is about representation, and the revitalization of the Jonathan Street community needs a multi-faceted approach that must include the preservation of historic assets as well as improved broadband capabilities to ensure equity within the community,” said Laura Houston, Historic Property Redevelopment Manager at Preservation Maryland. “Both the preservation of physical spaces and improved resources, like broadband, uphold sense of place and pride in our communities.”

Investing in communities across the state is a key tenet of our Historic Property Redevelopment Program; we are proud to lead and support progress for the benefit of current and future residents in this historic community.