Donated treasures add some polish SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber


February 16, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The daily business of running Sykesville takes place on antique desks amid display cases filled with items from the town's past.

A Turkish tapestry sent home by a World War II soldier, a 1927 railroad banner, a century-old bank ledger and an 1885 family Bible all help Sykesville look to its past while planning for the future.

Thanks to Thelma C. Wimmer and the other members of the Sykesville Historic Commission, many such treasures fill Sykesville's Town House on Main Street.

The town manager's desk, the clerk treasurer's desk, the mantel clock in the meeting room -- all are donations procured through Mrs. Wimmer's efforts.

For lack of space, many more items have remained in storage in the Town House attic or at Mrs. Wimmer's home.

"I had pictures behind my furniture, many boxes of old photos around the house, and my garage was full of the collection," she said.

But temperatures in garages and attics can cause damage to aging furniture, and many donors told Mrs. Wimmer they were disappointed that their things were not on display.

So when the Police Department moved to new headquarters last month, it meant the commission could move items from storage into vacated rooms on the second floor of the Town House. Mrs. Wimmer, 83, has spent several days a week unpacking memorabilia and setting up displays.

She easily recounts the story behind each item in the exhibit.

"Here is a telegraph key used at the old railroad station, now Baldwin's Restaurant," she said. "We have a hand typesetter from the Sykesville Herald, which published every week for 70 years."

One of the latest finds came from the basement of a residence in town: iron shackles and a lock and bayonet from an old gun, which probably date to the Civil War, she said.

The Town Council voted to purchase the Town House, which was built in the 1880s, while Mrs. Wimmer served on the Town Council from 1968 to 1972. She immediately began collecting antique furniture to fill its spacious rooms and offices, and "just kept on."

"Our gifts come in spurts, many from descendants of people who have lived all their lives here," she said. "Often the survivors have no use for the pieces and donate them to us."

Town House visitors immediately notice an elaborately carved oak bench next to the main entrance.

"We saw that at an auction and wanted it so badly," Mrs. Wimmer said, but another woman outbid the commission for the bench. With "a little pleading from commission members," the bidder sold the piece to the town for the same price she paid.

"What we had to buy we paid for through profits from our rummage sales," Mrs. Wimmer said. "I call and write letters to everyone asking for donations of historical interest. At our open houses, people often see one thing, which reminds them of another they could add. We are fortunate almost everything is donated."

As a member of the historic commission for nearly 20 years and a town resident since 1936, Mrs. Wimmer can give the background of nearly every item. One of her favorite pieces is a mannequin from Harris' Department Store, which operated for many years on Main Street.

"The first woman to serve on the council was a Harris," said Mrs. Wimmer.

The mannequin is dressed in a bride's going-away outfit donated by Helen Louise Gaither, whose mother wore the ensemble.

"I guess we could call the mannequin Adele Ridgely," laughed Mrs. Wimmer as she adjusted Adele's velvet hat. "She wore this outfit about 60 years ago on a honeymoon trip to New York."

The fur-collared navy wool suit and georgette blouse have stood the test of time.

The dark-haired and smiling "Adele" and her vintage outfit have been covered in plastic and relegated to an attic corner. She will move downstairs soon.

"She should have a place of honor," said Mrs. Wimmer.

Adele does need a pair of period shoes to match her navy stockings.

"There is probably a pair around town somewhere, stored away and forgotten," Mrs. Wimmer said.

Shoes for the mannequin are on the historic commission's wish list, which includes a baby doll to rest in an antique cradle.

"Margaretta McCoy's father made that [the cradle] for her about 1904," said Mrs. Wimmer.

Ms. McCoy, a retired teacher who lives in town, has donated several items, including "1893 rates for labor on public roads."

Her father, E. L. McCoy, served the town's road commission a century ago. Pay for the arduous work was about $1 a day, and the workers received no extra money for shoveling snow, according to the frayed job description.

Whenever the historic commission receives a new item, members do research on it and add it to detailed files. Microfilmed information on the collection is available to the public.

The commissioners hope they will get additional space in the Gatehouse building, which the town may lease from the state. With Mrs. Wimmer's plans to continue collecting Sykesville's history, there will be no shortage of items to fill it.

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