The Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration at the Carroll County Farm Museum could be considered the calm before the storm - the leisurely picnic and family festival that comes before tens of thousands of people converge on the museum grounds for one of the biggest fireworks show in the region.
Thursday, in the hours before that night light show, the "calm" held plenty of attraction as well, from sack races to a performing monkey; mule-drawn wagon rides to a moon bounce; dancing cloggers to pickles on a stick.
"We come every year," said Katie Byram, who had son Henry, 6, daughter Ellie, 9 and niece Lily Armstrong, 10, in tow.
Byram said her family spends the Fourth with her parents, who live in Westminster, and the farm museum has become their go-to spot for an Independence Day picnic, complete with homemade cherry pie and ice cream from Hoffman's, a Westminster staple just a few blocks away.
"It's wonderful here. No big crowd, so family friendly, so many activities," she said. "The kids just jump around from one thing to another, and they even get a history lesson."
Fourth of July at the farm museum is designed to be a family affair, said Dottie Freeman, museum director.
"It's affordable, it's for families," said Freeman, standing beneath a canopy near the entrance to the grounds greeting patrons. "We're not Baltimore's Inner Harbor, she said — we just want people to experience Carroll County."
That experience started with a flag-raising at noon by a unit of the Young Marines, followed by performances by local bands and the Carroll County Cloggers - including a rousing dance to "(Take Me Down to the) Little White Church" that had vendors across the lawn clapping.
Jim Saylor and his team of mules gave wagon rides across the 140-acre grounds, and Cub Scouts led hoop games and other activities for small children. Docents in period garb gave tours and talks around the circa-1850 farmhouse and offered demonstrations of Colonial- and Civil War-era skills.
Trainer Jerry Brown and his monkey, Django, held court for children and adults performing tricks and songs under a shade tree, while others tours the gardens and small animal pens.
"It's our first time. It's really nice," said Adam Benfer, a visitor to the festival with his wife Miranda and their face-painted daughters, Adelyn, 8 and Cloe, 5. "It's not too many people, it's not crowded."
The family from Owings Mills, decked out in red, white and blue tie-dyed T-shirts, checked online for a "fun family event" for the Fourth and settled on the Westminster celebration.
"We had a great time," said Mike Williams of the York, Pa.-based group, the HepCats, who played the first musical set on stage. "It's a beautiful facility, the people are great. It really felt nice to be out playing on the Fourth of July."
At the food booth manned by members of Westminster-based Boy Scout Troop 381 - home of the pickle on a stick and other delicacies - the boys and troop leaders were enjoying the leisure of mid-afternoon.
They knew it wouldn't last, and in fine scouting tradition, they were prepared.
"We were ready to go at 10 a.m., but it's slow until 5 o'clock," said Dave Rogers, committee chairman for troop and a member since 1964, when he was 12 years old.
At 5 p.m., the museum switches from daytime attractions to prepare for the evening fireworks. By then, families and friends start coming by the carload with blankets, coolers, Frisbees and a hunger for pyrotechnics.
"All day up to 5 p.m., we do about 20 percent of the business," Rogers said. "From 5 to dark, we do the other 80 percent."
The fireworks, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Westminster, is the biggest draw of the day, but Freeman said the festival leading up to it always reminds her of the museum's true mission.
"Seeing all the families, seeing all the little children dressed in red, white and blue," she said. "That's just makes me feel good."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun