Baltimore County Historical Society hosts Smithsonian exhibit on water

The Water/Ways exhibit is shown in the Baltimore County Historical Society.

The Baltimore County Historical Society in Cockeysville is the first stop for a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit on water and its effect on society.

“Water/Ways,” run through a partnership with Maryland Humanities, will include displays on the history of water, both broadly and in the Baltimore region specifically, said Baltimore County Historical Society Director James Keffer.


“[Water is] really integral to much of the development of society and community in the county,” Keffer said.

The free exhibit opened May 25 in the Baltimore County Historical Society’s Cockeysville museum space at 9811 Van Buren Lane, and will continue through July 6. The exhibit hours are 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday.


It is part of a Smithsonian program called Museum on Main Street that sends exhibits to small towns across the U.S. to allow people to access high-quality museum exhibits, said Theresa Worden, coordinator at Maryland Humanities for the program. She said the national program works with state humanities councils around the country.

“The Smithsonian really feels like they want to bring resources to smaller locations more directly,” Worden said. “They recognize that a lot of people don’t get to travel to D.C. and visit the exhibits. It’s their way of expanding their reach through the humanities councils to bring these great resources.”

Worden said the Baltimore County exhibit will have two sections: the traveling region-wide exhibit and a local exhibit designed by the Baltimore County Historical Society with support from the Smithsonian.

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“It really is about getting people talking and thinking through their relationship with water, whether it’s a social or spiritual connection, their work or their passion,” Worden said.

The local exhibit includes information on Baltimore County’s rich mill history, Keffer said. Covered in veins of rivers and streams, and set on an incline, Baltimore County’s geography made it uniquely suited to harness energy from water, he said. That led to a proliferation of mills: grain, paper, fabric and iron furnaces. Keffer said early on, those mills were the county’s largest economic driver.

Visitors also can learn about the history of local drinking water, segregation on beaches and water recreation, Keffer said. A documentary made by Lansdowne High School students on Ellicott City’s floods is also screening.

Keffer said the Historical Society plans to use Water/Ways as a launching point to reinvigorate its museum space, which he said has not had many exhibits in the past decade. The effort coincides with the Historical Society’s 60th anniversary year.

In addition to the museum exhibit, the program includes more than 70 public events around the Baltimore region for all ages, run with more than 30 partner organizations, Keffer said. Highlights include programs at Loch Raven Dam, Jerusalem Mill and the Inner Harbor. The Cockeysville Library will also host several talks.


A full list of programs can be found at

The exhibit will travel across Maryland through next spring, making stops in Oxford, Hagerstown, Cambridge, Crisfield and Prince Frederick. More information is at