'Hobby' yields county historian 'There's a market': Joetta Cramm's research has resulted in her being widely considered Howard County's unofficial historian.

January 22, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Joetta M. Cramm has turned her interest in Howard County history into a cottage industry.

"I never intended for it to happen, but there's a market," said Ms. Cramm, 63, an Ellicott City resident and former County Council legislative assistant who retired in 1989 to dedicate herself to her "hobby."

Ms. Cramm now is widely considered the county's unofficial historian.

She has contracts with Howard Community College to teach history courses and with the county's Recreation and Parks Department to conduct bus and walking tours. She does free-lance research for individuals and speaks to Rotary Clubs, churches and other groups.

And she has written two books, "Howard County: A Pictorial History," published in 1987, and "Historic Ellicott City: A Walking Tour," published in 1990.

"Of course, there are other people active with local history, but Joetta's name is almost always associated with it first," said Dr. Jerrold Casway, chairman of HCC's social sciences department.

Ms. Cramm's avocation began two decades ago when she found herself -- a nonhistorian who moved to the county in 1962 from her native Illinois -- drawn into Howard's history.

The vehicle was her work in 1972 with the American Association of University Women. As she helped prepare Ellicott City's Bicentennial celebration that year, her research into the Ellicott brothers, founders of the city, piqued her "natural curiosity," she said.

In 1974, she began teaching a course on local history at HCC, and over the years she continued her research.

She published 2,000 copies of her pictorial book -- a compilation of years of her research and photographs -- without any financial backing.

It cost her $34,000 to print the book the first time, but copies sold so fast that she was never in danger of losing money. The publisher paid for the second printing, and she paid $18,000 for the printing of a final batch.

Since its initial printing, the book has sold more than 6,000 copies. Larry Madaras, a longtime history professor at HCC, calls it the best history of the county.

"Joetta knows more about the county than anyone else," he said. "I'd use her as a starting point for any research on the county."

In the 1980s, Ms. Cramm began conducting walking and bus tours of the county. The tours now are offered three times a year and almost always sell out, said Jean Jaecksch, registration and marketing coordinator for the Recreation and Parks Department.

"They are so popular because she's so knowledgeable," Ms. Jaecksch said.

Ms. Cramm's HCC-sponsored local history course is well attended, Dr. Casway said. Offered three times a year, they feature slides, photographs, maps and sketches on the founding, growth, industries and people of the county.

Instead of taking her classes, some residents hire Ms. Cramm to trace the histories of their homes or to research other pieces of history.

If she can't readily find the information in the many books or two huge file cabinets of research in the basement of her Ellicott City home, she will head to the Howard County courthouse to look up land records, or to the library for old newspaper clips.

Yet, she still considers herself an amateur historian because she has no college training in history. She earned her undergraduate degree in education.

"I really look at local history as my hobby," Ms. Cramm said. "I believe you have to be trained to be a professional."

Her work brings her about $5,000 a year, but she said money is not the main incentive.

"I'm not getting rich, but it's enough that people are interested in what I do," Ms. Cramm said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.