Keeping time at the Union Mills Homestead

September 24, 1993|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,Contributing Writer

At Union Mills Homestead, progress means preserving, not improving.

"We don't change anything," said Esther Shriver, executive director of the Union Mills Homestead Foundation.

The Union Mills Homestead has been in existence since 1797. The land originally belonged to the Shriver family, which kept it and the main house, grist mill, tannery and canning buildings for six generations.

"It was sort of the main center of the community and it gave the community jobs," said Mrs. Shriver, whose husband is a sixth-generation Shriver. "It was really what you would call an early industrialized park."

The Union Mills Homestead Foundation Inc. was formed in 1964 to ensure the preservation of the homestead as a historical landmark. Keeping everything in tip-top shape is a continuing process.

"It's constant restoration work in an old house," said Mrs. Shriver, who has been executive director for 15 years, a charter member of the foundation since 1964 and jokes, "I'm almost an artifact."

She said the foundation reports once a year to the Carroll County government, which owns the land and buildings, and identifies needed repairs. The foundation owns the artifacts in the buildings and has responsibility for maintaining them.

"We're working on cleaning out the attic and cataloging artifacts," said Mrs. Shriver. "This past spring we finished labeling 1,000 to 1,500 pictures and put them in acid-free albums."

Cataloging the pictures has taken three years. In addition, textiles had to be labeled and placed in acid-free boxes. Last spring, the foundation rebuilt the goldfish pond, which wouldn't hold water.

Recently, the foundation received a $2,000 grant from the Maryland Historical and Cultural Museum Assistance Program for insulated window project. The foundation had applied for $5,250, the estimated cost for doing half the house.

The Thermo-Press Insulation Window System adds fiberglass to windows to filter out ultraviolet rays.

"Light is one of the main causes of deterioration of artifacts," said Mrs. Shriver.

The reinforced panes will act as storm windows and provide extra security for the building.

She said the new windows will blend in: "[The Thermo-Press frames] will be painted the same color as the windows, so you won't notice it at all."

Mrs. Shriver said the foundation applied for the grant about two years ago. Two conservators consulted with them about everything that needed to be done.

"Pictures all need acid-free mountings, and the books on display have to be covered with Mylar," said Mrs. Shriver. "We are working on newspapers dating back to the 1800s, cleaning them and putting them in chronological order."

In the spring of 1991, the walls in the home's breakfast room

were replastered and repainted. A specialist was called in to determine the original colors so they could be matched exactly. Artwork on the walls was touched up but not changed.

The Homestead depends on grants, memberships, events such as the annual corn roast and poinsettia sale, and private donations to pay for these projects. The foundation raises a yearly budget of around $70,000 to cover the cost of insurance, ** electricity, fuel, grain, inside repairs, appraisals, curating tools and salaries.

The county handles the caretaking -- such as tending the shrubs and bushes on the 4 acres surrounding the house and in the

14-acre park -- and big structural jobs. Currently, county workers are busy repairing the porches and pillars.

There also is constant work done on the mill's wooden gears. Derek Ogden, the millwright, lives in Virginia. An Englishman, he is one of only a few working mill wrights in this country.

The Homestead's next big projects will be repainting the back chimney, and restoring and lifting the kitchen hearth.

"The county has received a $4,300 grant to do repairs on the east kitchen," said Richard Soisson, director of recreation and parks, who is the liaison between Union Mills and the county.

Beyond that lies an even bigger job.

"The Homestead needs a new roof," said Mrs. Shriver. The last one was installed in 1965.

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