Sign Language

By Carrie Blough, Curator, Historical Society of Frederick County | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 04.28.13 – History, Timepiece

TO VENERATE 19TH CENTURY U.S. CHIEF JUSTICE ROGER BROOKE TANEY, IN 1929 EDWARD S. DELAPLAINE PURCHASED A HOUSE AT 121 S. BENTZ ST. and formed the Roger Brooke Taney House Corporation. The house was dedicated and opened as a shrine to Taney in 1930. A song written for the new corporation included the tongue-tripping stanza:

Small home of a great statesman!
There it stands!
In dignity and modesty and grace
When o’er the threshold of the door we cross,
We seem to stand within a hallowed space.

Taney’s name was on the deed of the Bentz Street property, leading many to assume that he lived there, but the Taney family actually lived in a larger house on South Market Street. Nonetheless, the house on Bentz Street was billed as his home and decorated accordingly with memorabilia and furniture that belonged to Taney, was associated with him or looked as if it came from the same period in which he lived in Frederick.

From 1930 to 1939, nearly 37,000 tourists poured through the house, learning about Taney and the infamous Dred Scott Decision. The corporation later lost the ability to properly care for the home and in 1946 the Historical Society of Frederick County assumed responsibility of the property. This sign is a remnant of that era. The task was not always easy; lack of money and volunteer support led the Historical Society to allow the Junior Chamber of Commerce to lease the building as its headquarters for $1 a year. The Jaycees, in turn, cared for the building and grounds. In 1968, the Historical Society officially turned ownership over to the Francis Scott Key Memorial Foundation, which continued to operate the building as a shrine to Taney. This arrangement lasted for 35 years, until the Historical Society reacquired the Taney House in 2003. This time, Historical Society staff and volunteers cataloged the shrine’s objects and reexamined old assumptions about the house and Taney’s time in Frederick. The house now offers new stories and exhibits to visitors, and opens for the season this month.