Society seeks to mend Dr. Brumbaugh's office


July 12, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LIKE SO MANY Elkridge residents, Neal Sybert was a "Brumbaugh baby." So were four of his six children.

These days, Sybert -- a former lawyer, judge and state's attorney -- is president of the Elk Ridge Heritage Society, which has its headquarters in the former home and office of Dr. Benjamin Bruce Brumbaugh.

The building serves as a museum of Elkridge history and pays homage to Brumbaugh, who worked as a family doctor in Elkridge from 1919 to 1980. After Brumbaugh died in 1985, the society, which was founded in 1980, bought the building.

But the building, parts of which date to 1877, needs constant work. About $22,000 is needed to replace windows and a furnace, and to install a new roof, said Sally Jarrett, the society's treasurer.

"Over the past few years, we've spent about $23,000 on upkeep and replacing windows," she said, adding that 16 more windows still need to be replaced. "There are grants and bonds and things that you can apply for, but those are getting more and more scarce."

The society recently was awarded a $2,500 grant from the Columbia Foundation, but it must provide a matching amount to receive it.

The two-story building on the corner of Brumbaugh Street (the name was changed from Lateral Avenue in 1970) and Main Street in Elkridge is open as a museum from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and by appointment. It is staffed by volunteers from the society, which has about 150 members.

The building has a forest-green exterior, white trim and a gray roof. On the front porch, a mat that says "Hi, nice to see you" dates to Brumbaugh's time in the house, Sybert said. Inside, the doctor's office looks as it did in the latter years of his practice. It has a rotary telephone, a microscope and a scale for weighing babies.

In the waiting room, framed diplomas and certificates show that Brumbaugh received degrees in medicine and pharmacology from the University of Maryland, and served as a first lieutenant in the army during World War I.

Photo albums on a table in the middle of the room show dozens of pictures of "Brumbaugh babies," as the children delivered by the doctor are known. The first one was Katherine Klier, born at her home Dec. 18, 1919. The photos extend into the 1960s.

Often two or three generations of the same family are pictured, as is the case with Joyce Nichols, born March 6, 1949, who is shown holding her infant son, Thomas, born Jan. 4, 1969.

In one book, the Brumbaugh babies are arranged so that each family occupies a single page. On one page, Sybert is shown with his brother, George, and sisters, Joan and Sue Ann, as well as his children, David, Sally, Joan and Mary.

Among the letters of praise in another photo album is one from Spiro T. Agnew, the former Maryland governor and vice president of the United States, who praised Brumbaugh in a letter dated April 22, 1970, for his 50 years of service. Agnew noted that, as a family doctor, Brumbaugh was part of a "vanishing breed."

In other rooms, artifacts showcasing the history of Elkridge, including newspaper clippings, photographs and church programs, are on display.

The sunroom has been converted to a library filled with old encyclopedias, file cabinets, photographs and other materials. One sepia-tinged photograph from 1947 shows Sybert's father, C. Ferdinand Sybert, in his role as speaker of the House of Delegates.

On the second floor, is a private apartment, which gives the heritage society some income. The new furnace is needed for that apartment. Also upstairs is a room with more memorabilia, including antique typewriters, a cash register and vintage clothing.

Brumbaugh, who was born in 1890 in Caroline County, came to Elkridge in 1919 to fill in for the town doctor, who was ill. He wound up serving as the town's primary doctor for 61 years. In the early days, Sybert said, he would charge $2 for an office visit and $3 for a house call.

He would visit new mothers for several days after their babies were born, then visit again six months later to check up on them. A Howard County Times article in 1980 noted that Brumbaugh was still making house calls at age 90. He died at 95.

Though Brumbaugh loved children, he and his wife, Miriam Lee Smith, never had any of their own. Perhaps that is why so many people want to see the Brumbaugh legacy live on in his little clapboard house.

Mrs. Brumbaugh died in 1958, after 37 years of marriage, according to the Howard County Times article.

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