Ex-hospital chronicles history of Sykesville Gatehouse Museum holds items from town's families

November 29, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Gatehouse Museum in Sykesville offers visitors glimpses of the town's history through photographs, archives and memorabilia.

Even the location of the municipal museum on Cooper Drive has strong ties to the town's past. The two-story building once marked the entry to Springfield Hospital Center, founded in 1896. At its peak, the hospital employed nearly 3,000 people, many of them town residents. Much of the museum furniture, including the conference table and office chairs, came from the hospital.

The state deeded the century-old building to the town several years ago and volunteers restored it, replicating the rich, dark colors and picture molding on the walls and refinishing the original oak floors and staircase.

"We have inherited too much to neglect sensitivity to Sykesville's history," reads a 1937 Women's Club of Sykesville banner that hangs at the entryway.

William Shipley, the hospital's purchasing agent, lived at the Gatehouse for 40 years with his wife and two daughters. The Shipley grandchildren have donated many photographs and housewares to the museum.

"Both William and Lillian Shipley were very involved in the community," said Jim Purman, archivist and curator for the Gatehouse Museum and its painting contractor. "Their grandchildren have told me wonderful stories of life in this house."

Volunteers have filled the museum with memorabilia from Sykesville's railroads, sawmills, farms and businesses, much of it documented by town historian Thelma Wimmer.

"Thelma is really our patron saint," Purman said. "She was so assiduous in searching for things and keeping records of what she got. Without her, we wouldn't be much of a museum."

Until the museum opened two years ago, most of the items were stored away, unavailable to residents. Now, visitors can see them, research through them and, in some cases, use them.

A candlestick-style phone rests on a stand by the stairway. It has a dial tone, but since the town switched to dial phones in 1962, no operator will respond. Children of Touch-Tone generations cannot resist the old phone, Purman said.

A mirror from the town train station hangs in the foyer, near an iron step stool like the one used at the station, now Baldwin's Restaurant. Other railroad memorabilia, including Baltimore and Ohio Railroad china, fill a showcase.

"The town owes its existence to the coming of the railroad," said Purman. "The old Main Line started operating here on July 4, 1828."

A mannequin, dubbed Adele, stands in a corner of the dining room. For years, the smiling figure was dressed in the latest fashions sold at the former Harris' Department Store on Main Street. Today, she wears a 1920s fur-trimmed navy suit and a maroon felt hat, the outfit worn by Adele Harris, daughter of the store owner, on her honeymoon.

At the museum, Adele still weathers the test of time.

"The poor lady fell on her face when a Girl Scout bumped into her, but she is none the worse for the wear," said Purman, who leads tours for children. "I wish we had other mannequins, because we have a lot of old clothes."

Purman often allows young visitors to dress in museum outfits, like the turn-of-the-century satin gown worn to a ball at Springfield, or Civil Air Patrol and volunteer fire department uniforms. To delight future generations, Purman takes photos of the children in the costumes.

"I keep a camera around to take pictures of anything that takes place," he said.

The attic is reserved for children. They can linger for hours among yellowing posters of cowboys and play with the displays of dolls, stuffed animals and other antique toys. Volunteers are building a platform for recently donated toy trains.

Some memorabilia predates the town's 1904 incorporation and FTC has come from residents' basements and attics. Judy Klein donated Civil War-era iron items discovered under floorboards in her Springfield Avenue home.

"We have no idea why the stuff was in her house," said Purman.

Scrapbooks from the women's club, high school yearbooks and bound volumes of the Sykesville Herald, which ended its 70 years of publishing in 1983, offer a look at town life.

"People love reading them," said Purman. "I hear them whooping because they have found themselves or their grandmother."

The museum displays the photography and needlework of the three Jones sisters, who ran a studio and shop on Springfield Avenue across from the Gatehouse until the 1970s.

The Jones' nieces have lent photo equipment, needlework and 300 pictures -- many of local scenes and several of the Gatehouse. The photographs and linens were popular wedding gifts to many town brides.

The museum lacks a picture of James Sykes, the prominent merchant for whom the town is named. Sykes, who died in 1881 at age 90, defended Baltimore in the War of 1812. When Purman found a picture taken in 1880 at a defenders reunion, he thought he had at last found Sykes, but apparently the aging veteran did not attend.

The museum has space for temporary displays. At its Christmas open house Dec. 27, it will have antique trains running. The Gatehouse will also be a stop on the Historic Sykesville Christmas Tour from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 6.

The Gatehouse is open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays or by appointment. Information: 410-549-5150.

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