In Sykesville, visitor center opens in reconstructed tower

Local post office also part of complex, called `first of its type in the state'

April 17, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Amid cheers from state, county and postal officials, Sykesville formally opened its visitors center and the first-of-its-kind satellite post office in a reconstructed railroad tower.

To mark the inaugural celebration last week, the post office, operating on the first floor of the building, issued commemorative cancellations on postcards picturing the Old Main Line Visitor Station.

"This retail outlet, under contract to the Postal Service, provides us a flexible means to maintain a postal presence in this community," said Gordon Seabury, district manager of marketing for the Baltimore area. "We wanted to broaden our scope, and Old Main Line is one of the avenues where we can do that. It is the first of its type in the state, which is part of the reason it took so long to open."

Sykesville lost its downtown post office three years ago, when the U.S. Postal Service opened a building nearly four times the size of the old one about four miles away in Eldersburg.

A town's identity is often tied to its post office, said Sykesville officials, who worked diligently to open a contract station downtown. The visitors center soon emerged as the most appropriate and convenient location.

"We are in hardware stores and drugstores, but with no real identity," said Donna Gouldin, retail manager for the Postal Service. "Here you know you are in the post office. It is one-stop shopping with the same services that are in Eldersburg."

Restoration rather than new construction has been Sykesville's goal as it revitalizes its Main Street area. The town is renovating several former state hospital buildings and creating a business campus along Route 32.

"This building is really magic that is manifested in all the hard work that brought it here," Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said at the building's dedication. "We are actually sitting in a B&O Railroad switching tower that embodies the spirit of what we are trying to do on Main Street."

From the century-old tower, railroad workers once directed trains onto tracks at Baltimore's Penn Station. The tower now offers views of Sykesville's downtown, a reproduction of a railroad yard and the south branch of the Patapsco River. It also provides the town with much-needed meeting space and visitors with information, postal services and accessible public restrooms.

"We have postal workers who will actually be our goodwill ambassadors," Herman said. "What could be a better marriage?"

Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll, called the post office "a perfect match for the town and business."

Colorful maps and posters fill the walls of the post office. Visitors will find directions to other attractions in the town that bills itself as "the model railroading capital of the known universe." The attractions, all within a block of one another, include a restaurant in a renovated railroad station; a restored Pullman car and caboose - on 80 feet of track - that house a model railroad layout; a miniature train that whistles while driving children around a tiny track; and a model railroad store.

"This building represents what can result from the vision of local government, a vision that asks what can we do as opposed to what can't we do," said Frank Johnson, special assistant to Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge and Mount Airy Town Council president. "The uses came together after it all got started. This will be a service to the whole county."

Herman gives Town Manager Matthew Candland credit for having the tower built. Candland, whom Herman called "a true scavenger," looked at a dismantled pile of rubble and envisioned the project.

The building arrived in Sykesville five years ago in pieces via the city of Bowie, which had acquired the walls, windows and other amenities after Penn Station removed the tower to make way for additional commuter lines.

Volunteers carted three truckloads of the remains of the 1,400-square-foot tower and stored it around town where they could find space. They saved everything: windows, wainscoting, copper pieces, brackets, molding, roof tiles and a cumbersome control box.

It took about $200,000, in county, state and federal grants, to put it all back together and add public restrooms.

"This project embodies all good things of government, with the town, county, state and federal working together," Herman said.

"People thought this project would fail," Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols said, "but we are building a reputation as the little town that can."

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