Parole…Then and Now
With the start of work on the Grand View at Annapolis Town Centre at Parole it is apparent
that a new chapter has been added to the Parole history.
The Parole area of Annapolis was originally home to hard-working colonial settlers and rolling farmland. In the 1740s, then Gov. Samuel Ogle boarded his thoroughbred racehorses at a nearby stable on a farm in Parole. He decided that rather than travel to Virginia or New York racetracks, he would find a way to race them near the farm.
The first organized, recorded thoroughbred race in Maryland was on May 15, 1745, in the area of Parole.
Within a few short years, then Gov. Oden Bowie relocated the local racetrack to a new venue in the “Pemlicoe” area of Baltimore. He designated this location as the official site of Maryland’s Race Track. Today Pimlico is internationally known for the Preakness, the second race of the Triple Crown. The local Annapolis track was reclaimed by the farm owner and returned, literally, to those agricultural roots.
Nearly 70 years later the Civil War was having an enormous impact on Maryland, especially in Annapolis. Annapolis was noteworthy because of its water location and the added benefit as the home of the U.S. Naval Academy. The Academy, after its midshipmen moved to Newport, R.I., for the war, was the federal designated site for prisoner exchanges. Ships brought both Northern and Southern POWs to be exchanged and sent back to their armies. Then, as now, space became an issue and St. John’s College was the overflow housing site for these displaced prisoners. Military organizers, recognizing the need to be near overland routes rather than water transportation, negotiated the purchase of a large farm closest to the Baltimore and Annapolis railroad (today, the B&A Trail) for the soon to be “paroled” prisoners.
Thousands of prisoners went through the Parole section of Annapolis. The estimate is 70,000 from the middle to the end of the war, with no more than 6,000 at any one time. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, participated in the effort to place these soldiers. She was at the Parole site late in 1865. As the war came to a close, Gen. U.S. Grant shut it down.
Parole’s next role was to become the home to a large number of African-American residents. In the 1880s, the Annapolis newspaper reported that more than 90 percent of Parole residents were African-American; the remaining 10 percent were shopkeepers and service people.
The first AME Church, known originally as the Macedonia Church, was in Parole. Graveyards for many of the local religious groups surrounded the area, and many are still standing.
The Colonial Carroll family had the original family burial sites in the Parole area. Many of these graves were relocated as development began to spread.
The 20th century brought increased travel from the Baltimore-Annapolis Railroad and trolleys from Route 2, which intersected in the Parole area giving way to increased shopping and residential expansion.
The next time you’re sitting at the light on West Street and Route 2, look around and try to imagine the footsteps that passed through Parole over the past 260 years.
Inside Annapolis will spotlight local areas of past importance as an opportunity to see how all that is present today has been built on an earlier significant foundation.