Farm museum lets thousands visit yesteryear

History: Fun and a sampling of life in the 1800s are ladled out to 100,000 visitors a year.

April 25, 2004|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

The most popular tourist attraction in the county, the Carroll County Farm Museum, lies in the heart of Carroll's gently rolling hills, a reminder of days gone by.

The 140-acre working farm and museum is the site of a dozen major events throughout the year that bring 100,000 people from around the region for fun and relaxation, as well as for a variety of educational programs.

The farm was created in July 1852 as the county's almshouse, or poorhouse, also called the county home. A farmhouse, dormitory-style building, springhouse, barns and other outbuildings were constructed in 1852 and 1853 as a place for the poor who had no money or place to stay.

A paid staff took care of the poor families who lived there, as well as indigent visitors who spent the night, and even mentally ill people and criminals who were put in rooms with bars on the windows.

Residents who were able worked around the farm, raising food and helping in other capacities.

During the Civil War, Confederate and Union troops stayed on the grounds.

On June 30, 1965, the county closed the facility as the county home and established the Carroll County Farm Museum. It officially opened in the summer of 1966 and the first event, a fall harvest festival on Oct. 22, 1966, attracted 5,800 people.

Today, the farm museum is managed and promoted by Dottie Freeman, her staff and a core of volunteers. Together, they care for more than 10,000 historical artifacts, create and operate educational programs, and hold events throughout the year.

Annual events include Traditional Arts Week in April; Civil War Living History Encampment, Blacksmith Days, and Spring Muster and Antique Fire Equipment Show in May; Fiddlers' Convention in June; Old-Fashioned July 4 Celebration and Fireworks Display, Common Ground on the Hill's American Music and Arts Festival and the children's Living History Camp in July. September brings Steam Show Days and the Maryland Wine Festival; October is for Fall Harvest Days; and in December, the museum sparkles with themed Christmas decorations during the Holiday Visit.

As a working 19th-century farm, the museum features period furnishings, tools and equipment.

The buildings have been renovated with new roofs and the bricks repointed and cleaned. A couple of years ago, the Mearing Barn was dismantled from its site on Uniontown Road and reassembled on the museum grounds to house a carriage exhibit, enlarged gift shop and meeting room.

A trapper's log cabin was turned into a one-room schoolhouse display, while the old broom shop is now a replica of a late 19th-century general store. The springhouse has been renovated and given an ornate iron gate and railing. The reception barn got new flooring and accessible bathrooms.

An heirloom garden was started after a historian was hired, and features vegetables and plants from the Colonial era.

A tea parlor in the farmhouse, as well as the flower garden, is the site for teas. Outside, there is a fishpond, croquet lawn, horseshoe pit and volleyball court. More space has been given over to the farm animals for grazing and showing them off to visitors.

Freeman started the Traditional Arts School, offering classes in 19th-century crafts in the fall and winter, in addition to Traditional Arts Week. Skilled artisans teach such crafts as blacksmithing, tinsmithing, weaving, basketmaking, open-hearth cooking, chair caning, folk art painting, soapmaking and woodcarving.

The farm museum also is a popular attraction for schoolchildren, who come by the busloads to find out about life 150 years ago.

"I wanted to promote education as well as the preservation of old buildings," Freeman said.

In addition, Freeman uses the early American bartering system to get things she needs for the museum by creating partnerships with other organizations and agencies that use the farm museum. Charitable groups, for instance, use the museum to hold fund-raising walks, in exchange for giving the museum free publicity in their materials.

Thanks largely to Freeman, her staff and the support the facility gets from the county, the farm museum has become a role model for other such museums. Freeman gets calls regularly from other locales wanting to create a farm museum and seeking her and her staff's expertise.

"This museum is more than just something old -- there are educational outlets and special events," Freeman said. "You offer the old -- you promote an era of time, in our case the late 1800s, but you also offer the new -- there are different avenues you can take to bring it to life again.

"As manager, it's my job and my goal to make this museum exciting and make it the showplace that Carroll County wants it to be," Freeman said.

The Carroll County Farm Museum is at 500 S. Center St., Westminster.

The museum is open in April for group tours by appointment; in May, June, September and October on weekends; in July and August, Tuesday through Sunday; and in December for the Holiday Visit.

Information: 410-848-7775, or

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