Gatehouse opens way to museum Structure will display Sykesville memorabilia

April 23, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville will soon take its memorabilia out of storage and put it on display in the Gatehouse.

The town Historic District Commission and volunteers are working with a $5,000 state grant to renovate into a municipal museum the century-old Gatehouse, once the entrance to Springfield State Hospital.

"We are going from two small rooms in the Town House to an entire house," said Mark Rychwalski, chairman of the commission.

The space in the Town House, as the town hall is called, is too small for the collection, and the municipal staff has long eyed it for more offices. To the disappointment of residents who donated them, the items not on display -- such as a mannequin from one of the first town shops and handcuffs used by the first sheriff -- are packed away in the basement and attic of the Town House.

After lengthy bargaining, the state agreed to lease the Gatehouse to Sykesville for $1 a year. The building, though in disrepair, is solidly made of granite.

"It would probably cost about $500,000 to build today with these same materials," said Robert B. McLeod, chairman of the renovation committee.

Still, the low rent might not have been such a bargain without the efforts of many volunteers who have scrubbed, sanded, painted and, along the way, found a few more artifacts, such as a working fireplace, buried under sheets of drywall.

Mr. McLeod is still hoping to find the cast-iron gates that once marked the entrance to the building, perhaps under the wooden front porch.

"Every time I work here, I find something new," he said. To demonstrate, he kicked a mound of dirt in the yard and unearthed a stone marker.

Vacant for several years, the three-story stone building needed extensive repairs to its heating, plumbing and wiring. The exterior has fared a little better. Intricately scalloped cedar shingles can be saved with sanding and a new coat of paint. The copper gutters and asphalt roof are relatively intact.

Inside, the to-do list is long. Lack of heat during the past few winters caused the radiators to burst, damaging the floors and ceilings. Springfield Hospital replaced the heating system and the building was warm enough for volunteers over the winter.

"Once we got a heating system, it jump started us into working," said Mr. McLeod.

The historic commission is working to return the building's Victorian decor. Members are restoring the floors and picture rail moldings to their natural finishes and plastering the walls.

Member Wiley Purkey has meticulously chipped off layers of paint and studied them under a microscope to determine what colors the first decorators used. The entrance hall will be painted dark green, the first-floor conference room maroon.

"Years ago, they used dark, rich colors," said Mr. Rychwalski, who has insisted on authenticity for the project. "We are living by the same rules the historic commission imposes on others. This is a true example of what can be done with older buildings."

One room on the second floor will become a library. More displays will fill the other. The commission will move its offices to the attic. It may be months before volunteers tackle the original kitchen in the basement, but a frame addition, which probably dates to 1930, contains a second kitchen, usable with a little work.

Also on the grounds is a garage, an ideal storage space for the Park and Recreation Department, which frequently schedules events across the street in Cooper Park.

The commission is following its own guidelines, although technically it is not yet bound by them. The Gatehouse sits on a half-acre on Cooper Drive, outside the limits of the historic district.

As they fill up the house, volunteers are hoping for more donations of items and labor. Residents recently gave the commission a candlestick telephone and two antique chandeliers -- real Sykesville memorabilia, said Mr. Rychwalski.

To raise funds for the project, the commission is planning attic sales from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 4 and 11 at the Gatehouse.

"We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go," said Mr. Rychwalski.

"We want to have this building open to the public as soon as possible."

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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