A blend of preservation, education

Carroll County Farm Museum a gem for local residents, thousands of tourists


Every September, the Maryland Wine Festival sets up on the grounds of the Carroll County Farm Museum as the largest event at the county's most treasured tourist attraction.

Last year, about 25,000 people came from 47 states and eight countries to sample local wines and entertainment during the festival weekend.

Besides the wine, fairgoers get a taste of the county's agricultural life stretching back 150 years.

"Preservation and education are our biggest issues," said Farm Museum administrator Dottie Freeman, who has worked there since 1986. "So those that won't have a chance to milk a cow or collect eggs can savor that way of life."

Freeman's mission is especially heightened this season as the Farm Museum celebrates its 40th anniversary.

The museum officially opened during the summer of 1966. But the history of the 140-acre farm extends back to the years just before the Civil War.

In 1852, Carroll County, newly created from parts of Baltimore and Frederick counties, established an almshouse on the farm, which was worked by poor residents who lodged in a dormitory on the grounds.

During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union troops camped there.

In May, the museum hosts an annual Civil War re-enactment. Regiments from the North and South dressed in period uniforms stage skirmishes, and a medical field hospital display, including a horse-drawn ambulance, is presented.

The almshouse, now the main farmhouse, was home to those who maintained a thriving farm, raising livestock, grain and vegetables until the county created the museum to preserve open space and the agricultural experience.

"From mules to microchips, we demonstrate how the technology of farming has changed," Freeman said. "This is why we're here. It's a different world now. We're trying to connect those worlds. That's what a museum does."

Freeman has consulted with people who want to start farm museums in other states. The biggest challenge is persuading local governments to preserve old buildings, such as an almshouse. "Preservation is now under scrutiny," Freeman said.

To commemorate the past 40 years, Freeman and her staff have planned several events this year. On April 1, a white oak and more than 70 native trees were planted on museum grounds in connection with the 100th anniversary of forest conservation efforts in Maryland.

A Surf and Turf Festival will be held in July, showcasing the state's seafood specialties and "landlubber" cuisine. A glossy pocket calendar, describing all farm activities in 2006, was created for the anniversary year. The staff is also assembling a scrapbook with photos from the past 40 years.

The Farm Museum offers a popular slate of classes, including basket making and blacksmithing. The crafts are celebrated during a traditional arts week, April 24-27 this year.

The museum's blacksmith also designed gates for the farm's croquet lawn, which guests have access to when they host an event on the grounds. The museum features lunchtime talks, on everything from milk bottle collecting to miniature trains, at noon on the first Monday of each month, May through October.

Residents also host company picnics, afternoon teas and family reunions on the museum's grounds, and by the gazebo, surrounded by a carpet of flowers, and in the reception barn, weddings.

The county's Eagle Scouts and the museum's other volunteers help with upkeep.

County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge has 40 years of experience with the museum, first donning a long skirt and bonnet as a broom shop volunteer with her 4-H club members soon after the grounds opened.

She remembers cherry pie contests there for the Fourth of July and stomping on grapes in a tub at the early wine festivals.

"Things were much more sparse then, with limited barn exhibits and less Victorian period furniture in the farmhouse," Gouge said. "There's been a tremendous movement for improvement."

At least five Scouts a year complete their Eagle projects there: putting up classroom walls and concrete floors, building picket fences around the rose garden and a life-size checkerboard on the grounds, digging out a vegetable garden.

"The list goes on," Freeman said. "They get things done and save the county money."

Looking ahead to the next decades, Freeman hopes the museum will open a restaurant and obtain a train to transport guests around the farm's perimeter.

She said she can always use more volunteers - at the height of the season, 300 schoolchildren tour the museum a day, and about 100,000 guests visit during an average year. Museums must compete with amusement parks, Freeman said, where tourists are given more eating venues.

The museum also lacks a heated reception-size building for weddings and meetings during the winter.

Freeman said her master plan calls for converting a maintenance building into such a year-round space, which could generate revenue during the dormant winter months.

But things can be tight running a farm with 15 buildings on a $700,000 budget, she said.

The facilities have been spruced up this year: new coats of paint and trim - in Victorian colors like celery green and rose - in the exhibit rooms of the farmhouse, cleaned rugs and polished floors.

"The goal is to preserve the buildings," Freeman said, noting the need to further repair roofs and siding. "It's all necessary to keep this Farm Museum alive for another 150 years."


The Carroll County Farm Museum, 500 S. Center St. in Westminster, opens next month for group tours by appointment. You can also visit the museum on weekends in May, June, September and October, and Tuesday through Sunday in July and August. It also is open on two weekends in December for holiday tours and teas. For more information: 410-848-7775, e-mail: ccfarm@carr.org or visit ccgov.carr.org/farm.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.