Model farm museum in Md. Ideas: From Virginia to Vermont, officials turn to Carroll County for advice on presenting their agricultural history.

July 15, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

As farms in Maryland and Virginia vanish amid the sprawl of houses and malls, some local leaders are seeking innovative ways to hold on to their agricultural roots.

For inspiration, many are turning to Carroll County Farm Museum. Housed in a building that was once a poorhouse for tramps and paupers, the museum is attracting attention throughout the Mid-Atlantic region -- and beyond.

Yesterday, members of a delegation from Loudoun County, Va., visited Westminster to get ideas for a museum of their own. They walked the grounds, snapped photos and wrote copious notes.

"We want to preserve the roots and heritage of our agricultural community," said William H. Harrison, a former agricultural agent who fears that Loudoun's proud farming history is fading fast.

Developers are buying farmland on the east side, razing barns to make way for townhouses and shopping centers. Loudoun, the eighth-fastest growing county in the nation, loses about 8,000 acres of farmland each year, much of it near Dulles International Airport.

"I think of Virginia as the most prominent farming area in the region. To think that they are looking to the state of Maryland for ideas on how to start a farm museum is really amazing," said Dottie Freeman, manager of the Carroll County museum.

And Loudoun isn't the only county to come calling.

"It seems I've been spending a lot of time playing the part of consultant, telling people how to set up their own farm museums," said Freeman, who recently fielded calls from Vermont and Connecticut.

In the past six months, museum curators, elected officials and history buffs in Anne Arundel, Washington and Cecil counties have phoned Freeman, seeking her advice.

"They're a very successful museum, so, hopefully, by looking at what they've done, we can avoid mistakes on our part," said Phyllis Kilby, co-chair of the Cecil County Farm Museum Committee. The group has been meeting for about 10 months and is selecting a museum site.

"Farm museums were not so popular at one time, because we were more of an agrarian society. But over the years, we've been losing more and more farmland, particularly along the Eastern Seaboard. So now there are people who want to preserve that culture," said JoAnn Hunter, founder of the Small Museum Association. The Carroll-based organization has about 500 members in four states -- Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Carroll County Farm Museum opened its doors in 1966. The main building on the grounds, known as the Almshouse, was for many years a popular place for paupers and tramps to seek overnight shelter. It was established as the county poorhouse in 1853 and filled that role until 1965, when the county's commissioners closed the building to indigents.

In its infancy, the museum boasted an apple orchard, smokehouse, broom shop, blacksmith building and several barns. Corn and small grain crops were planted in fields around the museum.

The apple trees are long gone, but many of the original structures, which date to the 1850s, still stand. Filling every nook and cranny are farm-related artifacts, including tools donated by Landon C. Burns, the museum's first curator. More than 10,000 items are on display.

In Loudoun County, developers are footing the bill for the $400,000 farm museum project. County officials voted in April to fund the museum with money that builders have voluntarily contributed over the years to offset the impact of development.

"The beauty of this is that the farm museum is going to be built in the eastern part of the county, so it will be a real educational center," said Harrison, who hopes it will open to visitors by mid-1999.

Half of Loudoun County's 357-acre Claude Moore Park, once home to the main roadway connecting Leesburg and Alexandria, has been earmarked for the farm museum. The remaining land will be transformed into ball fields and walking trails.

"I just love this place. It's just wonderful," Cindy Welsh, Loudoun's director of recreation, parks and community services, said of the Westminster museum. "I wish I could just pick it up and bring it across the Potomac."

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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