Julia R. Cairns, who was known as New Windsor's "unofficial historian" and spent decades gathering and preserving the history of the Carroll County village, died March 20 from complications of pneumonia at Friends House, a retirement community and nursing facility in Sandy Spring.
She was 96.
Julia Ann Roop, scion of an old Carroll County family, was the daughter of a real estate salesman and a homemaker.
She was born one of nine at home in New Windsor, and was raised in the Carroll County community, where she spent most of her life.
As a child in the 1920s, she attended Miss Ayres School, which was held in the town's Dielman Inn, and graduated in 1929 from New Windsor High School.
She was a 1931 graduate of Blue Ridge College and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.
During the early 1930s, she taught French at Manchester High School.
In 1935, she married Robert S. Cairns Jr.
The couple taught at Hamden Hall School, a private school in New Haven, Conn., until 1937, when they returned to New Windsor and she became a homemaker.
In the early 1960s, Mrs. Cairns established Boxwood Antiques at the Dielman Inn. The building at Main and High streets dates to 1780 and was New Windsor's first building.
"The Dielman Inn was a major interest of hers and she had always been interested in history," said her daughter, Elizabeth A. Stonesifer of Rockville.
"People from all over would just drop in. I remember one day when an author who was writing a book about Marion Bloom, who lived near here and had been H.L. Mencken's girlfriend, came to ask my mother about her and her sister," Mrs. Stonesifer recalled.
"People who wanted to know something or ask a question were sent off to mother. Her shop became the venue for people looking for the history of New Windsor or its families," she said. "And she was always accessible."
Gradually, New Windsor residents began donating material to Mrs. Cairns for preservation, which slowly began filling the former inn's 42 rooms.
She also was a recipient of significant New Windsor and Carroll County material from the Dielman family, who had owned the inn for decades before Mrs. Cairns purchased it.
"She was more interested in talking about the history of New Windsor than writing about it, but in 1976 wrote a booklet on the town for the bicentennial," Mrs. Stonesifer said.
Mrs. Cairns was a founder of the New Windsor Heritage Committee.
Jeanne Laudermilch, who is current president of the heritage committee and a friend of more than 30 years, described her as a "very charming person."
"Julia was a pack rat, dare I say that? Because people knew of her interest, they gave her all sorts of things and artifacts like news clippings, old bills and other ephemera," Mrs. Laudermilch said.
"She was always willing to share her knowledge with anyone who asked about the town, and over the years, she gave the heritage committee a lot of paper material from her collection," she said.
"I don't think she ever threw anything away," said R. Bryce Workman, curator of the New Windsor Museum, with a laugh. The museum is sponsored by the New Windsor Heritage Committee.
"She has been extremely helpful to so many over the years and she truly was the 'Sage of New Windsor.' She really was," he said.
"And because she had studied the town and had a phenomenal memory, any time we had a question or a problem, we called her," he said. "She was also very generous with what she had. Seventy-five percent of the material that we have, she gave us. She was a very fine lady."
In addition to paper items, other physical material included photographs and even pots that had once been made in the area, Mr. Workman said.
"She gave us a hostler's bell that once hung outside of the Dielman Inn and was used when a guest called for his horse," he said.
Mrs. Cairns enjoyed good health and kept the antiques store open until 2000.
"She began slowing down a bit by the end of the 1990s but when she was in her 80s, she was still running down back alleys to the post office," her daughter said.
In 2004, Mrs. Cairns moved from New Windsor and eventually to the retirement community.
"She was mentally astute until about six months ago," Mrs. Stonesifer said.
"Even though she had moved away to Sandy Spring, she was still very alert and remained interested in the town and people," Mrs. Laudermilch said.
Mrs. Cairns was also interested in the history of the Church of the Brethren and had helped organize the museum of the Pipe Creek Church of the Brethren, where she had been a longtime member.
She was a member of the Carroll County Historical Society, American Association of University Women and the Forest Oak Questers.
Mr. Cairns, a retired Montgomery County high school educator, died in 1984.
Plans for a memorial service were incomplete Monday.
Also surviving are a son, Robert S. Cairns of Denton, N.C.; a brother, Charles D. Roop of Westminster; two sisters, Esther R. Hough and Doris R. Wege, both of Frederick; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.