Ellicott City's piece of railroad history soon will have new leadership from a similar group in Baltimore.

Train museum ready to change tracks

December 14, 2005|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

The wheels are in motion at the B&O Railroad Station Museum for new leadership and new programs to begin in February.

As of Feb. 1, the historic Ellicott City site will be managed by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, said Courtney B. Wilson, the Baltimore museum's executive director.

The station museum likely will be closed for a little more than a month to refurbish the interior and install new exhibits, Wilson said. A grand opening is tentatively planned for March 10 through 12.

For almost 30 years, Historic Ellicott City (HEC), a nonprofit preservation group, has managed the site and supervised exhibits and programs.

Executive Director Janet Kusterer said her group is now prepared to give the job to someone else, and the Howard County Council's vote last week to lease the building to the Baltimore museum cleared the way for that change.

"Our purpose is restoration and education," she said. "We're leaving them a firm foundation to build on."

The Ellicott City station, completed in 1831, was the first railroad terminus built in the United States when the B&O Railroad laid 13 miles of track west from Baltimore to the mill town.

Tropical Storm Agnes and its 10-foot floodwaters nearly destroyed the station in 1972. But the Historic Ellicott City group was formed in 1974 to lead preservation efforts. Major restoration was completed in 1983 and in 1999, after the county purchased the structure from CSX Transportation.

The fact that the Ellicott City station dates to the 1830s gives its new managers the opportunity to focus programs there on an earlier time period - including the Civil War - and to focus on later years at the Baltimore location.

"It gives us a chance to use the Ellicott City station as sort of a platform to do education programs and exhibits on the first 35 years of railroading," Wilson said.

That will mean giving up a focus on World War II, which the Ellicott City museum has developed over the past year.

For example, the Ellicott City museum this weekend will offer "Christmas on the Home Front," a living-history program. Historians will demonstrate traditions and decorations from the World War II era and enact the experiences of families with loved ones in the military at that time.

Wilson said his organization plans to continue to offer living-history demonstrations, which are well-suited to the smaller historic structure.

He also plans to open the museum five days a week and offer a program for visitors to buy dual tickets for entry to both the Baltimore and Ellicott City locations.

Wilson said the community can expect the Ellicott City holiday model train exhibit to continue. This year's exhibit runs through Jan. 22.

The Baltimore museum is in discussions with HEC about the contents of the museum, which belong to the preservation group.

Kusterer said HEC will leave some important artifacts, such as the scale model of the 13-mile track between Baltimore and Ellicott City, the train caboose and several other large vehicles, such as a handcar and a speeder car.

Items that are historically valuable to Ellicott City will go into storage as the group moves forward with plans to build an education center and replica mill in the historic district. Other items will be sold or donated to historical groups.

One challenge, she said, is in tracking down items that have been on loan and used in rotating exhibits and determining whether the owners want them back.

The county will continue to provide the Ellicott City museum with a $50,000 annual grant toward its operation, as it has in the past, said John Byrd, chief of the county Bureau of Parks and Program Services. The county will also handle repairs to the building, cover basic utility costs and repairs, and maintain the plaza in front.

Byrd said his department "just felt it was a natural fit," to have the Baltimore museum take over the Ellicott City station.

Kusterer agreed, adding that the Baltimore and Ohio's role as an associate of the Smithsonian Institution is a benefit, as well.

"I know they have lots of resources at their disposal that we haven't had," she said. "Don't think for one minute it's not breaking our hearts to leave it. ... But we know it is going to be in great hands."

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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