African American Life and Culture in Western MD


by Madison Wilson

Brownsville was an African American community located in Frostburg, Maryland, in what is now the Upper Quad of Frostburg State University’s campus. Tamar Brown, possibly a newly freed slave, founded the community in 1866 when she purchased the first lot for $150 from Nelson and Caroline Beall’s Addition No. 1 in 1866. By 1870, her property was valued at $1,500. Her house was a two-story frame with a porch.

The community soon developed around Brown’s property, including many more homes, its own African-American public school, the Lincoln Schoolhouse; the John Wesley A.M.E. Church; family-run businesses, such as “Harper’s Parklane” and the “Cotton Club”; and a baseball field.

In 1927, the State of Maryland began purchasing the houses and property making up Brownsville in order to expand Normal School No. 2, now Frostburg State University. By 1968, the greater portion of Brownsville was replaced due to the expansion of the university, the larger purchases being from 1927-1933 and then again in 1959-1960s.

Overall, more than 40 families lived in Brownsville. Many listings in the 1870 U.S. Census reflect multiple families and/or generations of a family living in the same home.

Census documents show the occupations of Brownsville residents, including a midwife, two barbers, a weaver, two farm workers, and six laundresses. The men of Brownsville often identified themselves as laborers, but some were listed as coal miners.

In 1898, Normal School No. 2 was constructed in Beall’s Park looking down Loo Street (now Wood Street) towards Main Street, with Brownsville outside of its back door.

By 1920, at least 240 people resided in the Brownsville community (residents of Oak Street were missing from this census). From 1927-1933, the State of Maryland executed its first wave in purchasing the homes and property of Brownsville in order to expand the school. Some of the first buildings bought included the John Wesley A.M.E. Church, the Lincoln Schoolhouse, and Tamar Brown’s home.

The final wave of purchasing the homes of Brownville occurred from 195 into the 1960s. Ariel photographs  show residents living behind Compton Hall, built in the 1950s, but by 1968, the greater part of what was the Brownsville neighborhood no longer existed.

Many of the residents moved to cities such as Uniontown, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., while a few remained in the Frostburg area.

For more information, please check out the following books:

  • Bowman, Lynn.  Being Black in Brownsville: Echoes of a 'Forgotten' Frostburg, 3rd ed., 2011.

  • A Century of Commitment: Frostburg State University, 1898-1998, eds. Howard and Elizabeth Adams.  FSU Foundation, 1997.

Additional Resources

For more information on African Americans in Western Maryland, visit Allegany County African American History on the Western Maryland's Historical Library website.   

For more information on the Carver School, an African American school in Cumberland, Maryland, visit the Remembering Carver Facebook page.  

For more information on the Underground Railroad history related to Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Cumberland, Maryland, visit the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland website.  To arrange an Underground Railroad tour at the church, visit the church's website.