Respected chief leaves Baltimore rail museum

Director well-known for work in community

August 14, 1999|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

The B&O Railroad Museum's executive director, John H. Ott, said yesterday he will leave his job in October to take a similar position at a Masonic history museum in Lexington, Mass.

Ott has been credited with creating closer ties between the roundhouse museum and its southwest Baltimore neighbors, and news of his departure was expected to hit the community hard.

"It's a blow. He's done so much," said Amber Eustus, a housing counselor with Communities Organized to Improve Life. She is also secretary of the Hollins Market Neighborhood Association.

Ott made the museum "a moving force in the community," she said. "He organized lots of things. People are coming in who never came to this neighborhood before."

The museum has reached out to neighborhood groups, schools, churches and businesses to try to improve life in the hard-pressed community. Ott helped organize residents and city crews to clean up streets and alleys.

"It's a kind of a parish," Ott said. "We have to be concerned about everyone, and all the economic and social issues around us."

Before coming to Baltimore in 1991, Ott headed the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Mass., for 13 years and led the Atlanta Historical Society for eight.

"Now I'm off to a fourth adventure," he said. "It has been a very, very difficult decision for myself and my wife. But what I do is take institutions and make them work in a community -- well-to-do, black or white. That's my great strength."

Richard L. Leatherwood, chairman emeritus of the B&O museum, said: "John has done a wonderful job for us. He took the museum from a very early stage in its growth and established it as one of the leading museums in this area.

"We hate to lose him, but because of the stature of the museum, thanks to him and his staff, we believe we will be able to find an excellent replacement," Leatherwood said.

Attendance at the museum at 901 W. Pratt St. has grown from about 60,000 a year to more than 100,000 under Ott. Its endowment, a steady source of operating revenue, has grown from $5 million to about $6 million, Leatherwood said.

The museum completed a $1.6 million capital campaign, its first. The money is being used to renovate the museum's 1869 car shop. The B&O also became the first museum in Maryland to establish an affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution.

Leatherwood said Ott raised the professionalism of the museum staff and built its corps of volunteers. He also helped forge closer marketing ties with other historic sites in southwest Baltimore, including Carroll Park and the Mount Clare Mansion.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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