Agriculture of old gets a new look Farm museum to open Oct. 10 in Texas

August 16, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Inside, the big red barn is redolent of newly sawed wood and fresh paint. Outside, two young men brush preservative on battered pieces of old farm equipment: a plow, a grain winnowing machine, grain flails, a wooden lathe and a wooden wheelbarrow.

Baltimore County's newest museum is taking shape and will show how education and science combined to advance American agriculture in great strides between the Civil War and World War II.

Built by the county 15 years ago to replace a 19th-century barn destroyed by fire in the 1970s, the barn has stored county equipment and part of the Baltimore County Historical Society's collection of farm and farm-home implements.

Now, with money from a bequest that has been gathering interest for more than 20 years, the $50,000-plus project will permit display of large parts of the collection for the first time, said Joan H. Wroten, society president.

When the museum opens Oct. 10 in Texas, a plaque will honor Dr. Dickinson Gorsuch, a prominent veterinarian and cattle breeder who left the legacy to encourage public education in agricultural practices and animal husbandry. However, not until this year did the society agree on how to use the money, Mrs. Wroten said.

Once the society received full use of the barn, the idea of a farm museum emerged and Jerry Trescott, a professional historic conservation consultant from Uniontown, was hired to design the new museum and plan the exhibits.

Using the theme "Agriculture as Science," Mr. Trescott has divided the barn into seven bays for exhibits ranging from pictures and documents illustrating farm life in the early years of the 20th century, to implements large and small, including a horse-drawn roller made from a log, a two-horse Rockaway carriage, a one-horse sleigh and simple hand planters.

Text boards built in the shape of the barn's ventilating louvers and painted white with green trim will have information about each display.

The centerpiece is a restored steam-powered Holland Manufacturing Company portable sawmill -- with a dangerous looking blade -- that could be hauled to cut lumber at the logging site.

Mrs. Wroten said she identified many of the items in the collection from a 1903 Sears & Roebuck catalog. Catalogs from the 1920s and 1930s show that many of the things used on farms in the 1880s and 1890s remained unchanged nearly a half-century later, Mr. Trescott said.

"Some of these things that look very old really aren't that old because they didn't change," he said.

Baltimore County has been a prime agricultural area since settlers arrived in the 17th century, and many sections -- some of them close to intensely developed urban areas -- are still farmed as they have been for generations.

The American farmer differed from his European counterpart in that once he settled on the land it was his and he could do what he wanted, Mrs. Wroten said. To the west, there was always more land, and ideas flourished, she said.

The U.S. Patent Office was flooded with applications for new labor-saving farm implements, Mr. Trescott said.

"Every American who lived on the land had ideas for new and improved equipment, and corn shellers and planters were the most popular," he said.

As agriculture improved and expanded, more and more land was needed along with more people to farm it and more equipment for them to use, Mr. Trescott said. American farm equipment began to be sold around the world and became the standard, he said.

Eventually, however, the equipment became so efficient it began to replace people, thus leading to the advent of agribusiness, vast farms using the most modern equipment but few farmers, Mrs. Wroten said.

The new museum will try to capture the evolution of farming from the impact of the Industrial Revolution to the point where agribusiness took over.

The first bay will feature materials about the Oread Institute, proposed in 1905 as one of the first schools to teach agriculture. Land was acquired and buildings were constructed in the Glencoe area for schools of agriculture for boys and domestic science for girls, but the school never opened, Mr. Trescott said.

In the old days, farmers had to have many skills, and one corner of the barn is being enclosed to represent the invaluable farm shop, where the farmer repaired not only his tools but also the things his wife used in the home.

Other bays will be devoted to grain crops grown in Baltimore County and their importance to the local economy, and various aspects of farm life including the roles of women and blacks in agriculture, hay parties, farm architecture and the Gunpowder Agriculture Club, one of the area's earliest farm associations.

Although the collection includes an example of nearly every important piece of farm equipment, there is a missing link, an early 20th-century tractor on steel wheels, Mr. Trescott said. "If anyone has one like that we would sure like to know about it," he said.

After its formal premiere, the museum will be open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays at 9811 Van Buren Lane, Texas.

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