Union Mills Homestead director to retire after more than 20 years

Shriver connection dates to founding brothers in 1797

August 12, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Union Mills Homestead is searching for a new director. For the first time in the property's 202 years, it looks as though no Shriver will be in charge.

Esther L. Shriver, the museum's executive director for more than 20 years, has announced plans to retire as soon as a replacement is hired.

"I just decided it was time, but I will stay until they find somebody," said Shriver, who celebrated her 71st birthday yesterday.

She could be director indefinitely. Candidates are not lining up for the job, which Shriver said is "time-consuming and not high-paying."

The foundation's board of directors has advertised the post in state historical publications. Shriver declined to divulge the salary.

"We are looking for someone with museum experience, someone who cares about family history," said Shriver.

She plans to continue as a volunteer because "I have a great interest in the homestead." Volunteering is what led her to the directorship.

The property is her closest neighbor, across Littlestown Pike from the home she shares with her husband, James Jr., a sixth-generation Shriver.

During the gas crisis of the 1970s, she would cross the pike and volunteer.

"I guess it was the gas shortage that kept me working at the homestead," she said.

The couple are charter members of the nonprofit Homestead Foundation, established in 1964 to preserve the buildings and 20 acres a few miles north of Westminster.

The foundation, which has about 350 members, runs the museum and grist mill, employing Shriver and two assistants. The museum relies heavily on volunteers.

"But it is really hard to get volunteers, especially to do the physical work involved in preserving the buildings," said Shriver.

A popular tourist attraction, steeped in local history, the museum draws more than 6,000 visitors annually. Many of them are Civil War buffs who have re-enacted encampments of Union and Confederate soldiers en route to the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

The property has been in the Shriver family since 1797, when brothers Andrew and David Shriver began a family dynasty in Union Mills. More than 300 descendants and their relatives attended a bicentennial celebration two years ago.

The celebration was in a newly restored building paid for by a $100,000 state grant that included extensive roof repairs and repainting. The gardens also were replanted.

The homestead's 11 rooms, filled with family heirlooms, are open for guided tours. The grist mill was restored and demonstrates the process of grinding grain into flour by water power. The flour is sold at the museum gift shop.

The museum and mill draw crowds to many well-known annual events such as the spring flower mart, the summer corn roast and the Christmas greens sale. The homestead also become a popular choice for weddings and family reunions.

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