Farm history finds a home

The Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club, which has long held traveling exhibitions of its vintage equipment, plans a museum on a site in West Friendship.

July 17, 2005|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

After a decade of hauling vintage threshers, plows, bailers, hoes, butter churns and washboards to demonstrations around the county, the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club is getting a museum to house it all.

Or, rather, the agriculture buffs are getting a lease on nearly 40 acres of county parkland - dotted with a two-story farmhouse, abandoned farm buildings and a buried barn foundation - along Route 144 in West Friendship.

They have to supply the museum.

Club President John W. Frank said that will not be a problem. Members have been saving, buying and refurbishing thousands of farming artifacts and stashing them in barns, basements and sheds in preparation for this day.

A museum "was one of our earliest goals," Frank said. He recalled discussing the idea at the club's first meeting, in a country store in Lisbon 10 years ago.

"In order to preserve the lifestyle, you have to preserve the items," he said.

Frank says club members are also eager to create the physical structures for the museum. Many have access to - and expertise with - cranes, bulldozers, dump trucks and other equipment that would cost thousands of dollars to rent.

Most of all, the club has members who enjoy hands-on projects, people who like to repair long-outdated tractors and were happy to spend a year taking apart the Roxbury gristmill piece by piece and placing it in storage.

"We are not in the least afraid to roll up our sleeves," Frank said. "This really is the passion for most of the members."

The County Council voted to approve the lease this month. The museum site is part of the 340-acre West Friendship park location, across Route 144 from the Howard County Fairgrounds.

The club will pay $900 a month in rent, and certain projects will count as work equity toward that amount if they are pre-approved by the county parks department.

"We are leasing the property for farming anyway, and [the museum] is compatible with the general surroundings," said John Byrd, chief of the county Bureau of Parks and Program Services. "It also dovetails nicely with the heritage programs we're trying to promote on a countywide level."

Byrd said the club has "a long history of successful programming, and they have a very dedicated and strong organization. ... They don't ask for much of anything from the county."

Before the lease was final, club members were working at the site, clearing overgrown patches of trees and weeds, grading an area near the Route 144 entrance and cleaning out the two-story farmhouse known by the name of its former owners, the Hebb family.

The club plans to hold its annual Heritage Days festival at the site Sept. 24 and 25.

Members expect to have several permanent displays in place in two years.

Frank said the long-term vision for the museum includes several components.

The centerpiece would be a walk through time, with locations showing Howard County farming in different eras.

Club members envision a Native American encampment, a cabin showing life for early settlers, a farmhouse as it would have looked before electricity and a display, probably in the Hebb House, of farm life in the mid-20th century.

The walk would also include a one-room schoolhouse, a country church, a sawmill and the reconstructed gristmill. Other groups with areas of expertise, such as blacksmiths or Native American history groups, would be invited to give demonstrations.

Most museums are set up to illustrate the period of time during which the site was in use, Frank said. "To a large extent, they're pretty static. ... We wanted to have a living farm museum."

The club plans to build a main display building for equipment and permanent displays of farming techniques. It also plans to reconstruct on the existing foundation a barn that has been donated.

There will also be seasonal displays of planting, growing crops and harvesting, using machinery and methods from previous eras.

"We think we can entice folks to want to come back every few months, and every few years to see how things are growing," Frank said.

A permanent location will be a huge improvement over loading, transporting and setting up the collection at other locations.

What can be transported "is a small portion of what we have to display," said Brice Ridgely, a Cooksville farmer and founding member of the club.

"I've built sheds to put stuff in just to house it for the time being," he said. "We've got it hanging all over the place."

His collection includes a stationary binder from the 19th century, grain binders from the 1920s and 1930s, and horse-drawn equipment such as plows and bailers.

"What I've tried to do is collect things that my father and grandfather had ... that I remember seeing on their farms," Ridgely said.

"It will be nice to have someplace to put them where they can be on display."

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