Arbutus Library gives patrons a glimpse of history

Just past the double doors at the entrance of the Arbutus Library, visitors are greeted by a huge black-and-white photograph of the Thomas Viaduct from the middle of the 20th century.

It's one of 11 historical photographs positioned around the library that depict equipment and scenes of railroads from Relay, Halethorpe and Arbutus.

The 11 replicas of old photographs, one of which dates to 1857 were installed as part of the Arbutus Historic Mural Project, said library manager Gail Ross.

"What's interesting is some people will walk around and just stop and they'll stare," Ross said. "Other people will talk about being down at the viaduct as children."

Library volunteer Ed Smith is one of those who often takes a stroll down memory lane by looking at the pictures.

The 78-year-old Arbutus resident said he worked construction on the B&O line in the 1950s.

"Some of these (photographs) here I'm sure were taken by some of my friend photographers," Smith said. "I recognize all the areas."

Smith said he remembered when he first moved to the area and walked around a neighborhood that included the Relay House, a hotel that was demolished in 1950.

At the time,Smith didn't know what it was, except that it was "a beautiful building."

"(These pictures are) this neighborhood," he added. "Arbutus and Halethorpe wouldn't be there if it weren't for the B&O Railroad."

When the library approached the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, about this project, Lynn Cazabon jumped at the opportunity.

The associate chairwoman of UMBC's Department of Visual Arts, Cazabon said she's interested in looking at history through photographs.

The railroad theme developed, she said, through consultations with Ross and community members.

They agreed that the railroad's importance to the community made it fitting for the library.

Over two semesters, she and three undergraduate students searched for photographs in the UMBC and the Maryland and Baltimore County historical societies' archives.

"We selected images that we liked and thought were representative of the railroad industry," Cazabon said. "It was hard to pare it down."

Finding the best pictures wasn't always the final step.

A number of photos couldn't be used because they lacked clarity and wouldn't be as compelling in a larger size, Cazabon said.

"Most of the pictures had already been digitized, but they were cleaned up to be the best possible image they could be," Ross said.

Proceeds from sale of "Arbutus: A Historical Scrapbook," a book written by Arbutus resident Paula Wolf and Donna Cameron, funded the project.

This project began in spring 2010, several months before the library had its grand opening.

"There were various detours because the building hadn't even been constructed yet," Cazabon said. "We were basing this on the building just from the blueprint."

Despite not seeing the building, Cazabon said the resulting product worked well.

"My goal is to create striking images that draw people in and gets them to the point where they're curious about the world," Cazabon said. "They can certainly learn about their own history of the area."

The murals inspired library employee Andrew Clash to find the modern day location of the Adamantex Brick Co. featured in one of the murals.

"I've always been very fascinated with the history of the area," said Clash, 24, an Elkridge resident who grew up in Arbutus. "I live right next to the viaduct and my family has always been interested in trains."

Clash noted people can learn about more than just about locomotives and local history from the photos.

He pointed to a photo from 1927 that showed two women wearing flapper-style clothing.

"It's beautiful. My favorite workplace with some of my favorite things," Clash said. "When I heard we were getting pictures, I thought we would be getting these small things.

"I didn't imagine we'd be getting these beauties."

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