The sign that had advertised "Coming soon in the fall, Baldwin's Restaurant," has been moved inside. If the proprietors hang it out again, it might be abbreviated to "Coming soon."
The partners who plan to convert the old Sykesville railroad station in southeast Carroll County into a restaurant know better now than to advertise an opening date. After signing loan agreements last week, they are aiming for a March 1 opening.
Delays arose this summer, when the state said the town would have to assume full responsibility for lending $180,000 in state money to the restaurant partners. The town had to redraft the loan agreement and negotiate with the partners for a personal guarantee of the state loan, which will help finance what is expected to be a $300,000 restoration project.
Baldwin's takes its name from the station's architect, E. Francis Baldwin, who designed several B&O Railroad stations before the turn of the century. The Sykesville station received passengers from 1884 until passenger service ended in the 1950s. The railroad continued using the station as a storage and maintenance shed until the town bought it two years ago.
Town Manager James Schumacher sees the station as part of a larger restoration of the downtown to be crowned by a riverfront park alongside the new restaurant. "We needed someone who would come in here and take a risk," he said.
Jack Saum Sr., who is vice president of a truck dealership, and Charles Cullum, who is a truck salesman, stepped forward. They will lease the station for as long as 25 years, paying monthly rent of $500 and, under certain conditions, 2 percent of gross revenue.
Their wives, Helen Saum and Sarah Cullum, who will oversee daily operation of the restaurant, explained during a recent tour how the crumbling plaster and bare grimy floorboards would soon become plush with atmosphere.
Inside the main entrance is what was the ladies waiting room back in the days of separate waiting rooms. It will become a bar. Terra cotta colored walls and antique train stencil designs will suggest the theme of a turn-of-the-century club. The ticket office will be a parlor, adjoining a 32-seat dining room in what was once the men's waiting room. From the original windows, bordered with colored glass panes, diners can look across the tracks to the south branch of the Patapsco River.
The old freight room will become a second, more rustic, dining room seating 38. The original brick and beams will stay. The wood plank floor, soaked as it is with spilled fuel and creosote, must be replaced, Helen Saum said, because otherwise, "you'll never get the smell out."
The basement, which will eventually house a furnace and a wine cellar, still has a coal heap in back. The partners are looking for someone to shovel it out.
Upstairs, where the trainmaster once lived in a four-room apartment, will become a suite of offices.
The food entrees will be named for great passenger trains. The City of New Orleans, which ran from Chicago to New Orleans, might be a shrimp dish. The Capital Limited, which ran from Maryland stations to Washington, might be a chicken dish with crab.
On the basis of her research of railroad history, Sarah Cullum, who will supervise the kitchen staff, plans to revive bygone dining car fare such as steak and kidney pie. But since "a lot of stuff in those days was done with lard," Cullum said, she plans to change some ingredients to lighten the calorie load.
The station is registered nationally and in Maryland as an historical landmark, which means that the Maryland Historical Trust regulates the restoration plans to keep the building true to its original appearance.
The partners plan to build an addition to house the kitchen but will preserve the station wall.
The kitchen "will actually be glued onto the station," Helen Saum said. "The trust doesn't want us to do anything that will permanently mar the brick of the station."
Other additions are actually restorations of lost features. The partners will rebuild the train platform, for use as an outdoor dining patio, and make a replica of the car port that once extended from the main entrance.
Supplementing a decor of railroad memorabilia will be the real freight trains that still rumble past the station, blowing a warning whistle as they approach the adjacent street crossing.
The partners have already tested the potential effects inside. "The building is so sound that once the engine goes by, it doesn't even jiggle the water in your glass," Saum said. "But it certainly adds atmosphere."