Past comes alive at Jerusalem Mill

Education: Volunteers at the restored Colonial village in Gunpowder Falls State Park demonstrate to visitors how settlers lived.

October 26, 2003|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Pure escapism," says Mike Eraugh, 46, of Jerusalem Mill and village in Gunpowder Falls State Park. The Department of Health supervisor from Harford County says he visits the historic site to tend the garden of cabbages, horseradish, herbs and more, and to make deer stew over an open fire for volunteers.

He relives a happy outdoor childhood experience with his family on the quiet, shaded banks of the Little Gunpowder Falls in the restored gun factory behind the mill in Harford County. At day's end, volunteers dressed in Colonial-period cotton garb, sit and talk. It's a time gone by. Almost. Someone whistles an old tune and a joke is told as two children play a game of catch.

The grist mill is more than 200 years old and is surrounded by some of the buildings that once made up a Quaker settlement. The state owns all but one of the buildings, which are in various stages of restoration and offer visitors a chance to see how the early settlers lived.

Volunteer Eraugh said, "It's like going to Ocean City, even better. When you were a kid and you crossed the Bay Bridge and you got to the other side you were in another part of the world. When you come down this road ... and you come across [the Jericho Bridge], it's another world. Cell phones don't work here. There's no signal. The road is a couple hundred feet away, and you are shielded by the mill, and ... it's escapism," he said.

Eraugh stirs the cooking carrots, squash, tomatoes and basil picked fresh from the garden out back that his mother weeds.

Inside the gun factory, also called the craft building, tables are set with spoons and pewter bowls, and candles cast a glow over the evening. Volunteers take a bowl and dish up food after a day of performing 18th-century chores - sewing for the women, learning embroidery and carrying wood for the children.

Learning opportunity

For Chris Gainsville and his home-schooled daughters, it's an opportunity to try new skills while the family awaits the birth of a new child.

"The kids like it, and they learn at the same time. It's kind of unique," he said.

The volunteers belong to the Friends of Jerusalem Mill, which was formed in 1985 to promote the restoration of the mill and surviving buildings, which include the gun factory (once a cooper shop), a blacksmith shop, a general store and post office, a sawmill and several other tenant houses and outbuildings.

Gainsville is apprenticed to founding volunteer Terry Crawford to learn leather-making and scrimshaw-drawing.

Kate Dolan, an author of historical novels, says she commutes from out of state because she thinks she can use what she learns in her writing. Her first novel, Langley's Choice, is set in the 1760s. Dolan says her childhood didn't prepare her for her novels and that taking part in a living history enactment such as the village does.

Aura of the past

Everything around the 230-year-old Jerusalem Mill has an air of pre-Revolutionary War times about it.

Across the road from the mill, authentic blacksmiths work on most Sundays. Items created in the shop are sold in the museum, which is housed in the mill, along with the park's headquarters.

Dave Williams and William Coffman work in the blacksmith shop, where the hot metal is fanned by bellows. The simple structure, with its low light and smithing materials, gives a feeling of being stuck in a time when fur trading was good, and coin was rare. Bartering was the means for getting what was needed.

In 1772, the Jerusalem Mill was completed by millwright Isaiah Linton and miller David Lee. It was powered by water diverted from the river. It was converted to metal turbines about 1900 and then to electrical power in 1941. The mill ceased operation in 1961 when the last miller, Jack Bridges, died.

For the past eight years, curator Chris Scovill has worked to increase tourism to the museum to help the underfunded Friends of Jerusalem Mill organization. A lot has been accomplished.

Curator program

In the 1990s, the group took over the day-to-day management and operation of the buildings and several rental apartments on the site.

"Give the state credit for a rather unique program," Scovill says. "A resident curator program ... started here and now other states are copying it." The program involves historic properties owned by the state that need work. If the state has no use for them and doesn't want the burden of maintaining them, it turns to a waiting list of people who expressed interest in managing and restoring them.

"They have an open house and people come to look at [the property]," Scovill says. They assess the needs and bid on the right to restore it, including in the bid a plan for restoration. "So, for the privilege of living there, they restore [it]," he says.

The White family lives across from the mill and daughter Elise is a volunteer.

Having residents living in the rental apartments at the site is part of the living-history setup.

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