Cowdensville in Arbutus, Maryland

In a small, secluded area of Arbutus lies a little historic settlement of African Americans called “Cowdensville.” Of the various historic African American communities that I have researched and/or written about, Cowdensville is, by far, the most unknown community of them all. However, in explaining just where Cowdensville is, as soon as I mention to people, “Have you ever attended a burial at Arbutus Memorial Park?” most people know exactly where that park is located; and when I say, “Have you noticed the little white church on the corner, just as you turn to go into the Park? Then most people say, “Yes!” And just about everyone is truly surprised when I say, “That is Cowdensville!”

When this little settlement came into being is not exactly known; however, it is known to predate the Civil War. Adrienne Williams Jones, a Cowdensville native has a belief that the first Blacks in Cowdensville settled in the area about 200 years ago, as slaves on farms. She is probably correct because other historic Black settlements in Baltimore County began in that very same way. It appears quite logical that Arbutus, with its large farms, close proximity to the Patapsco River and the harbor at Elkridge Landing, and climate quite conducive to the growing of tobacco, was home to many slaves who were used to grow and transport tobacco. In this area, an old Indian trail that eventually became Rolling Road, was a major transportation route for tobacco going to the ships that came into Elkridge Landing from England, bypassing the Baltimore City harbor.

When slavery ended, many newly freed Blacks remainded in Cowdensville, where they had already established their own community, and their own church, “Cowdensville Chapel,” in 1857. No one seems to know how the name “Cowdensville” came into being. According to a Sun newspaper article of September 20, 1991.

Evelyn Revels, a not too recent homeowner in Cowdensville, provided a document that did not indicate it’s origin, that stated:

“Back in the eighteenth century, the late Enoch Pratt deeded a grant of land in the area of Shelbourne and Sulphur Spring Road, then known as Arrow Spike, to George Hawkins who worked for him at that time. When George Hawkins departed this life, he left this property to his daughter, Alice and her husband Thomas Tyler who sold sections of the upper end of the land to different neighbors of the village which was called Cowdensville. The lower end of the land was sold to the late Scott family and on part of this property in 1857 was built the original church called Cowdensville Chapel, with a burying ground at the side. This area is now called ‘Garrett Avenue.’ The burying ground has since been abandoned and the few tombstones that were left have been demolished by vandals. In the early days ofthis church it was also used as a school with children coming from Halethorpe, Avalon, and Winan’s Row to seek an education. In the year 1906, the church members purchased the ground and built the new church at Sulphur Spring and Shelbourne Roads, which was opened in May, 1907, and still serves its community today as the oldest ‘area’ church.