Vintage Truck Farm Buildings Start Exhibit Of Lost Culture

Benson-hammond To House Structures

August 13, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

THEY CAME BY THE THOUSANDS — mostly women and children of Bohemian or Polish descent -- from the city to harvest the summer crops.

Through the 1940s, North County was dominated by farms where strawberries, beans, peas and other produce were grown and then trucked to Baltimore.

Now local preservationists are assembling a truck farm museum at the historic Benson-Hammond House in Linthicum to simulate this lost culture.

Three vintage outbuildings -- a corn crib, tack house andsummer kitchen -- are being moved to the site from the George Cromwell farm on Hollins Ferry Road. They have been there since the turn ofthe century.

Beth Nowell, executive director of the historical society, said she hopes to have the buildings transferred next month.

Movers will slide steel I-beams under the buildings, lift them on flatbed trucks and drive them two miles up the road to the Benson-Hammond House, where they will be unloaded and set on foundations.

Over the next two to five years these and other buildings will be renovated and turned into exhibits, Nowell said.

"The point of this is preserving a lost culture," she said. "It's not to be a working truck farm. It's only an interpretive farm to allow people to understand the culture of northern Anne Arundel County prior to 1947."

The Benson-Hammond place was a truck farm in the early 20th century. Because the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and with the Maryland Historic Trust, all the outbuildings used must be authentic.

Besides the three Cromwell buildings, there will a meat house, tack house, carriage house, outhouse, barn and picker's shanty.

The "pickers" from Baltimore arrived in May, when the strawberries ripened, and stayed until autumn. They lived in shanties, provided by the farmers. In the two-story shacks, often no more than 20-by-30 feet, up to eight families would stay.

Very few picker's shanties are known to remain in the county, and the historical society is still looking for one for the truck farm.

The society has been offeredone shanty in Pasadena, but its condition is so poor that Nowell doubts it can be saved. The society is awaiting word from the owners of a second shanty in Odenton.

Two other outbuildings, the carriage house and a meat house, have been donated and will be moved at a future date, Nowell said. The log meat house sits on Crain Highway in GlenBurnie. The carriage house, in Odenton, is being donated by the KMS Group Inc., a Columbia-based developer.

The society needs an outhouse and a barn -- but not just any barn. Though the county has many tobacco barns, those were not used on truck farms and cannot be used for this project.

"I need a two-story barn," said Nowell, who's having trouble finding such a building. "Either they have fallen over orpeople are still using them."

Nowell located a two-seater outhouse last year, "but it fell over."

Originally, the historical society conceived of the truck farm museum as a 10-year project. But the dilapidated state of most historicoutbuildings makes it important to move more quickly, Nowell said. The society would like to finish the museum in two to five years.

"These are threatened buildings. We can't just say, 'Wait another fiscal year.' When a building is threatened with demolition, or if age makes them threatened, you can't always afford to sit back and wait," she said.

Dozens of historic structures are knocked down every year, either by nature or by builders, said Al Luckenbach, an archaeologist with the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

Depending on the quality of the structure, "sometimes we try to get (builders) to keep them, sometimes we record them and let them tear them down, and sometimes we just tear them down," hesaid.

"We think it's wonderful what they're doing up there, providing a home for threatened buildings."

The estimated cost of the truck farm museum has quintupled in the last year, Nowell said, because the society grossly underestimated the expense involved in moving and refurbishing the buildings.

Some buildings must be moved piece-by-piece, then reassembled using a detailed architectural drawing. Nothing can be moved until "test pits" are dug on the site, revealing whether any artifacts or remains of old buildings are being disturbed.

The society must get recommendations from the Maryland HistoricalTrust, which has an easement on the property, about what to do abouta 1940s-era chicken coop it found.

All structures must be landscaped, made accessible to the handicapped and turned into public exhibits.

The farm has been sold to developers who donated the outbuildings to the Historical Society of Anne Arundel County.

The developers, Parkway Cos. and Legum-Cromwell Joint Venture, are paying to movethe structures to the 1.98-acre Benson-Hammond site on state Department of Transportation property at the north end of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The society is asking state legislators to submit a $500,000 bond bill in the next General Assembly session for the project.

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