For 20 years, the Sykesville Gate House Museum has collected items celebrating the history of the town, now, organizers are working to revitalize the museum, with a sharper focus on the Springfield State Hospital, the town's former mental health facility which opened in 1896.
The changes have come about due to reports from Interpretive Direction, an organization which provides planning, advice and critiques on heritage sites.
According to Jack White, curator of history at the Gate House Museum, located at 7283 Cooper Drive, Sykesville, the facility will remain closed for the next couple of months, as organizers plan out new exhibits, change the museum space and improve their overall presentation.
White, a local historian who wrote the book "In Carrie's Footprints: The Long Walk of Warren Dorsey" about a longtime Sykesville resident's history in the town, said he's only been working at the museum for a little more than a month. He said he applied for the job as curator based on his love of local history.
"I think, in general, people are very ignorant of the history of the county," White said. "A historian's job is to tell the truth. That way, anyone looking to find the actual truth can go ahead and find it."
Because many of Sykesville area's current residents come from out of the county, White said, presenting local history takes on an even greater importance at sharing the legacy of the town.
White said the biggest suggestions involved streamlining the focus of the museum and presenting the available materials in a more professional manner.
"It's pretty unfocused, as it stands right now," White said. "There's material all over the place and it covers everything from town history to the railroad to the hospital to everything else. Pretty much anything that related to Sykesville was on display. We're going to change that."
With its new focus, White said he hopes to draw visitors from beyond Sykesville who are interested in more than local history. He said by tracing the history of the hospital, you touch on topics of mental health, American history and changes in treatment technologies.
To fill the new museum, White said he has the opportunity to dig through the hospital's archives and collections of photographs and curios. He said, he is excited to see what's available from their collections.
"There are so many records that we can look through to help tell this story of the hospital in a lot more detail," White said. "The town was quite dependent on the hospital and the hospital was dependent on the town."
In his research, White said he's learning how little he truly knows about the hospital and its history. He said in researching his book about Dorsey, he learned about his father and brothers who worked at the hospital. Recently, White received an email from someone who grew up working at the hospital morgue. He said the stories he's learning are beyond fascinating to a history buff like himself.
Though there's not a defined opening date set yet, White said he's excited for the public to come see what they've got ready sometime this spring.
"I am so excited to see what stories we can develop from this," White said. "I know a lot about Sykesville, but I'm finding out so many new things. It's a pretty exciting time and project."
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