Decked out for holiday happenings

Farmhouse decorations at this year's Carroll County Farm Museum open house pay tribute to incorporated towns


Santa starts taking requests this weekend in a cozy log cabin reconstructed at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster. Whimsical crafts line the shelves of the gift shop in a restored barn. Savory aromas emanate from the Sleighbell Cafe, and the 19th-century former almshouse is decked in Victorian holiday splendor.

Heritage Holiday Happenings, the museum's annual open house, opens Friday for a two-weekend run. The theme this year revolves around the rural centers of commerce and community in a salute to the county's eight incorporated towns.

About 2,500 visitors are expected to tour the grounds and the house whose rooms show off the museum's collection, as well as municipal memorabilia.

"The farmhouse is like a hostess promoting all of Carroll County," said Dottie Freeman, museum administrator. "We reached out to the towns and are letting them market themselves. Their residents gave us ideas on promoting what each town has to offer and have helped us decorate."

An 1877 map, with towns identified by their individual seals, hangs in the entrance hall with a large magnifying glass nearby. A door swag, filled with sepia-toned postcards and crowned with a pineapple - a traditional symbol of hospitality - beckons visitors into the parlor. By virtue of a clock, a painting and artifacts from its most famous resident, the parlor is dedicated to Taneytown.

The formal room boasts a grandfather clock built by Eli Bentley, a Taneytown craftsman, about 1800 and still ticking. A painting of George Washington, who reportedly visited an inn in the 201-year-old town, and Francis Scott Key memorabilia are also on display.

While meandering through the exhibit, visitors can make a game of finding the same three symbols included in each room's decor - a model train, a piece of mail and a miniature house.

"Trains once linked all the towns," said Pat Brodowski, museum historian. "Carroll was also the first county to have interlocking mail routes, with a mail wagon that picked up everything."

Museum archives detail stories of livestock shipped by mail and even a child sent west, Freeman said.

The museum study belongs to Hampstead and Manchester, with the floor stencil a replica of one found in a North Carroll farmhouse.

The room pays tribute to the county's German farm heritage with several examples of Old World Christmas ornaments - cut paper decorations, Moravian star and fraktur documents embellished with vividly painted drawings.

On a governor's desk stands a Belsnickel, an early and somewhat fearsome rendition of Santa dressed in animal skins and carrying switches and candy. Legend says the Belsnickel would rap on the door and then throw candy into the house. Anxious children, who did not wait for permission to gather the sweets, might earn a switch.

The family of a Westminster furniture merchant donated an ornate mahogany bed, topped with a bolster whose case is crocheted with the familiar "early to bed" adage.

The bed dominates the master suite, a room that pays tribute to the county seat. Vintage photographs tell the history of Westminster, incorporated in 1818.

Sykesville decorated the child's bedroom with a model train and station and prints of locomotives. Union Bridge has also contributed some of its train lore.

In keeping with the child theme, Sykesville lent memorabilia - an abacus, globe and frayed text books - from its Colored Schoolhouse, which the town is restoring as a museum.

Mount Airy's contributions to the exhibit include a hand-held railroad stop sign, a blue and gold high school letterman sweater and a "Chirp" soda crate.

New Windsor filled the kitchen and hung over the mantle a folk art painting by Eliza Jane Baile, who was born in 1832 and traced her local ties to 1747. A note from Mayor Sam Pierce, who will double as Santa Claus, invites visitors to "stop in and discover the charm of our town."

All the museum greenery comes from the grounds, including the deep red topiaries made from amaranth grown in the heirloom garden.

The dining room table is set with antique china, crystal and silver and laden with food for the holiday feast, including a turkey and colorful scoops of ice cream. The food tempts, but it is all faux.

Faux food figures heavily in the exhibit. Stockings spill raisins, grapes and nuts. A plate of cheese and crackers and another of petits fours sit in the foyer. All varieties of cake replicas rest on the kitchen table with recipes available.

"You have to go to the cafe for the real stuff," Freeman said.

Visitors can dine at the Sleighbell Cafe, take a ride with the wagon master and finish the tour with shopping in the museum's store.

The museum is at 500 S. Center St., Westminster. Tour hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Dec. 9, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 10, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 4 and 11. Admission is $2.50 per person; children age 6 and younger with a paying adult will be admitted free.

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