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Josiah Henson Park

The Riley Farmhouse & Log Kitchen

11420 Old Georgetown Road
North Bethesda, MD 20852
Information: 301-650-4373

Hours of Operation
Open for special events only

EVENTS | GROUP TOURS | PARKING & WEATHER | | HISTORY | RESEARCH | RESOURCES

Josiah Henson Park is located on the historic Isaac Riley Farm in North Bethesda where the Reverend Josiah Henson lived and worked as a slave from 1795 to 1830. This park is a historic resource of local, state, national and international significance because of its association with Reverend Henson, whose 1849 autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's landmark novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The park is currently open only during a limited number of dates each season. Mark your calendar with the upcoming 2013 special events. All events are free and open to the public.

NPS Network to Freedom logoThe Josiah Henson Park is part of the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.

After extensive public outreach the master plan for the development of Josiah Henson Park was approved and adopted in December 2010. This project now moves to our Park Development Division which has begun the facility planning for this park. Visit the facility planning project web page for information on the progress of this project.

Time Team America at Josiah Henson Park!

Time Team America banner

“The Search For Josiah Henson” on PBS

The Josiah Henson archaeological site was one of four American sites selected by Time Team America for inclusion in their second season. Time Team America brought their high-tech equipment to help Park Archaeologists learn more about a very special man in American History, Josiah Henson. "The Search for Josiah Henson", is an over-the-archaeologists'-shoulder view of discoveries made at our very own Josiah Henson Park!

Group Tours

Group Tours Montgomery Parks is proud to be able to offer Group & School Tours of the Josiah Henson Park, one of our most prominent historic sites to the public. All tours will be presented by trained guides who will make history come alive for your group.

Parking Map for Josiah Henson Special ParkParking & Weather

Parking

Parking is ONLY available just around the corner at the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center, located 1.5 blocks away at 5900 Executive Blvd., North Bethesda. (0.2 miles). Click on the map at right for a closer look or download a detailed walking map (pdf, 1.4MB) or use a Google map.

Inclement Weather

In the event of severe weather, please call ahead to confirm the park will be open before traveling to the site.
Call 301-650-4373 for a recorded message of the most current park event hours.

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History

Engraving of Reverend Josiah Henson, ca. 1880The Josiah Henson Park (formerly called the Riley Farm/"Uncle Tom's Cabin") is a historic resource of local, state, national and international significance because of its association with Reverend Josiah Henson, whose 1849 autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's landmark novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Riley Farm was where Henson lived and worked as a slave from 1795 to 1830. The existing structure was the home of Isaac and Matilda Riley. The frame portion dates to 1800-1815, based on nail chronology. The log wing, built as a kitchen with a loft, dates to 1850-51 based on dendrochronology (tree ring analysis).

Many of Henson's experiences of living as a slave on the Riley property are vividly depicted in his autobiographies and are recreated in Stowe's novel. Henson eventually escaped to Canada in 1830, where he established a fugitive slave community called Dawn and became a minister, speaker and writer. He returned to the United States several times between 1831 and 1865 as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

The impact of Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, should not be underestimated. Published in 1852, it broke all sales records of the time and sold over half a million copies by 1857. It inspired and enflamed the abolitionist movement in the mid-19th century and many believe it helped to propel the American Civil War.

Because of the historical associations of the Josiah Henson Park there is perhaps no property in Montgomery County that conjures up images of slavery and the slave experience as much as this resource. The goal for the interpretation of the Josiah Henson Special Park is to accurately portray Henson’s life and the Maryland slave experience as well as to explore the impact of Stowe’s novel. The realization of this goal will have a permanent educational benefit.

The Josiah Henson Park had been in private ownership for its entire history, until it was acquired by the Montgomery County Department of Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) in January 2006. The building and site are protected by public ownership and M-NCPPC is committed to excellent stewardship of this resource.

The Montgomery County Planning Board held a Planning Board Work Session on December 2, 2010 where it approved/adopted the master plan and the recommended name change from "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" Special Park to Josiah Henson Special Park. Visit the Josiah Henson Special Park Master Plan web page for more information.

The Riley/Bolten House has recently been listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its historic significance.  It is considered to have irreplaceable cultural, material, and aesthetic value. 

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Research

In 2008 a Historic Structure Report was written to systematically and comprehensively document the property’s origins, physical materials, and archaeological yield. M-NCPPC contracted John Milner and Associates, Inc. to complete the necessary investigations. Their experienced team developed a detailed analysis of the building and grounds.

In this document you will find information on Reverend Josiah Henson, the Riley family, and on the structures and landscape of the site. As with all historical inquiries, research is ongoing.

The site is now in the "Design Phase" looking into all of the issues surrounding the conversion of the site from a private dwelling into a public cultural resource. Parks historians are investigating the history of the Henson site on a continual basis.

Timeline

Date Acquisition & Research
2006
Riley Farm Property Acquired
June 2008
Historic Structure Report Completed
October 2008
Dendrochronology Completed
2009
Rozier Property Acquired
December 2010
Josiah Henson Special Park Master Plan - Approved and Adopted
Spring 2011

Facility plan Initiated. Contact the project manager, Eileen.Emmet@MontgomeryParks.org at 301-495-2550 with questions and comments.

Resources

Electronic versions of Reverend Josiah Henson's autobiographies are available online. Please follow the links below to read Henson's historic narratives:

Uncle Tom's Historic Site, Dresden, Ontario, CanadaUncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site, Ontario, Canada

Trace Father Henson's footsteps to his final home in Canada. Visit the Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site in Dresden, Ontario to learn more about Reverend Henson's life and work at Dawn Settlement in Canada.

back to top - Last update: September 8, 2014