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This Old House

Nestled in 2,650 acres of protected land on the Chesapeake Bay in Edgewater, Maryland, sits the oldest building in the Smithsonian’s collection that’s still in its original location.

A red brick house surrounded by a green lawn, trees, and shrubs
Woodlawn House at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Woodlawn House was built in 1735 for tobacco planter William Sellman and his family. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) purchased the house in 2008 and rehabilitated it in 2020. Over the past few years, Smithsonian Exhibits (SIE) has worked with SERC to transform the house and the surrounding landscape into the Woodlawn History Center exhibition and the Woodlawn History Trail.

The exhibition and the accompanying trail tell the story of the diverse people who lived in and around Woodlawn House and shaped the surrounding landscape. This includes Indigenous people, enslaved people, indentured servants, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and others.

Graphic panels with portraits and a family tree hang above a display case.
The exhibition tells the story of the many people who lived in and around Woodlawn House, including the Sellman and Kirkpatrick-Howat families.

Working in a historic house proved an interesting challenge for SIE’s team. Unlike working in a typical museum gallery, SIE had to be careful to preserve the historic structure and all of its architectural details.

Before and after images showing a room with dirty white walls and dull floorboards and the same room with blue walls, polished floorboards, and exhibition elements.
Before and after images of Woodlawn House’s front parlor showing the house before its rehabilitation and after SIE installed the exhibition.

The exhibition features artifacts uncovered by SERC’s team of citizen scientist archaeologists. These include everything from ancient Native American projectile points to glass milk bottles from the nearby dairy farm.

Stone projectile points hang from a graphic panel featuring a historic map labeled "You are here."
Native American projectile points discovered in the area

 

A large glass display case featuring historic artifacts, including tools, clay pipes, coins, and pottery sherds.
SIE made mounts for more than 200 artifacts, including coins, clay pipes, and pottery sherds.

 

Before and after photos show a reader rail with three flip panels that open to reveal replica artifacts.
An archaeology dig interactive allows visitors to uncover replicas of artifacts archaeologists discovered nearby.

 

Before and after photos show a reader rail with four flip panels that open to reveal text about archaeological finds.
Flip panels allow visitors to make their own discoveries.

 

A 3D model of Woodlawn House includes a three-story red section on the left, a two-story yellow section at the center, and a two-story blue section on the right.
A tactile model of Woodlawn house, featuring braille, allows visitors to see and feel the different sections of the house, which were built at different times: 1735 (yellow), 1841 (red), and 1979/2020 (blue).

 

A reader rail with a QR code on the bottom left corner
QR codes throughout the exhibition connect visitors to screen reader–accessible verbal descriptions on SERC’s website.

 

A timeline titled "Historic Milestones from First People to the Arrival of SERC" includes text and images.
A timeline places local events into the context of national and international history.

 

The front hallway of the house features a display case and a bench. The walls are lined with graphic panels.
The final section of the exhibition brings the story up to the present day and introduces visitors to SERC’s conservation work.

Outside the house, the Woodlawn History Trail takes visitors on a self-guided walking tour past neighboring historic sites.

An interpretive sign featuring text and images stands in the grass in front of Woodlawn House.
The Woodlawn History Trail

 

An interpretive sign featuring text and images stands in the grass, surrounded by flowers and shrubs. A paved pathway leads to the sign.
The trail interprets the surrounding landscape and how it has changed over the centuries.

 

An interpretive panel featuring text and images stands in the grass in front of trees and shrubs. A gravel pathway runs alongside it to the left.
The trail takes visitors past nearby historic sites, including the site of Shaw’s Folly, a house built in the 1650s for Quaker settler John Shaw and his family.

 

An interpretive panel featuring text and images stands in the grass overlooking a gravel path and a field.
The trail highlights the role of enslaved people, sharecroppers, and tenant farmers, who worked the surrounding land.

 

A small interpretive sign titled "Horse Chestnut" stands in the grass in front of a tree trunk.
Yvone Kirkpatrick-Howat and his wife, Lauraine, were the last people to live in Woodlawn House. They were strong advocates of environmental conservation and planted many trees around the house.

SERC’s campus and the Woodlawn History Center are open to the public on certain days. Visit SERC’s website to plan your visit.