Glenn Porter and his fellow volunteers with the nonprofit Friends of Jerusalem Mill have spent 35 years restoring and maintaining the buildings in the Historic Jerusalem Mill Village in Kingsville, and as Porter notes, “after 35 years, we’re about halfway done.”
“It’s been interesting,” Porter, 75, said of his experience as a volunteer. “It teaches you patience, if nothing else.”
Porter, who helped found Friends of Jerusalem Mill Inc. in 1985, was recognized for his decades of service recently by the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism and named a Lifetime Achievement Honoree for Harford County. The recipients of the 37th annual Governor’s Service Awards were announced in late November — Porter was highlighted on the Facebook page of the service and volunteerism office on Saturday, Dec. 5.
In addition to being a founding member of Friends of Jerusalem Mill, Porter is a board member and past president and vice president of the organization. The retired Harford County Public Schools history teacher and library technician has served as the nonprofit’s education coordinator for the past 20 years, putting together programs to bring hundreds of students to Jerusalem Mill each year to learn about life in early America.
“I think it’s one of the best things we do,” Rick Decker, the current president of Friends of Jerusalem Mill, said about the 20 educational days the organization puts on during the spring and fall.
“The programs developed under Glenn’s leadership have attracted an estimated 800,000 visitors over the last 25 years, hailing from every state and 42 other countries,” according to the nomination citation presented to the governor’s office.
The citation, written by Jerusalem Mill curator Rich Albright, highlights Porter’s “insistence on accuracy and authenticity as the organization portrays Maryland’s history to visitors of all ages, ethnicity, genders, heritage,” a characteristic that “has been an inspiration to the historic interpreters of the Friends of Jerusalem Mill.”
The Friends of Jerusalem Mill officers and volunteers nominated Porter, whom Decker described as “just an exceptional human being, and a nice guy on top of that.”
“I was, honestly, very pleased,” Porter said about being named for the state honor, which Decker noted was a surprise for Porter.
“He’s very grounded,” Decker said. “He’s a very friendly person, [and] he has just kept this educational program going all these years.”
The educational days, which are not currently happening because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are an opportunity for Baltimore and Harford County elementary school students from public, private and home schools to learn about colonial life in a historic mill village. The village dates to 1772, when Lee’s Merchant Mill opened along the Little Gunpowder Falls and a Quaker community developed around it.
The state acquired the mill and surrounding buildings in 1961; the restored mill facility, with its distinctive red siding, is the current headquarters for Gunpowder Falls State Park. Many of the stone and wood buildings in the village are original, with 11 of the 12 structures being recorded on an 1811 census, according to Decker.
“It was a multi-century industrial agricultural village,” Decker said of Jerusalem Mill.
Visiting students, who usually come in groups of 100 to 150, break into smaller cohorts and rotate around to multiple stations in the village. They interact with Porter and other volunteers in period dress and learn about aspects of colonial life such as gunsmithing, blacksmithing, spinning, cooking over an open hearth and children’s games. About 2,000 students go through the program each year, according to Decker.
“We do a nice job of covering colonial life, which fits in with the curriculum of both Harford County and Baltimore County fourth- and fifth-graders, so that’s been rewarding,” Porter said.
Porter, who currently lives in Perry Hall, spent 41 years with HCPS, including 30 years teaching history and 11 more as a library technician, all at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air. Porter grew up in Bel Air and is a 1963 graduate of Bel Air High School.
Many other volunteers who help with the educational days are retired teachers who “have a variety of interests,” said Porter, who noted that he is “most proud” of his work with school groups when reflecting on his time as a volunteer at Jerusalem Mill.
Porter said he got involved with Friends of Jerusalem Mill — which came together as neighbors decried how the village buildings along Jerusalem Road had fallen into disrepair — through his Southampton colleague, physical education teacher Harry Sanders.
“I was just drawn into it, being a history person,” said Porter, who noted that the village with many original buildings “tied in perfectly” to the colonial history he had been teaching seventh-graders.
His wife, Debbie, who is retired from Baltimore County Public Schools and was teaching fifth grade in BCPS when school trips started at Jerusalem Mill in the late 1990s, was “the original trip person” when she brought her students to the village.
“I got good feedback from her, what to do, what worked and what didn’t,” Porter said.
Debbie and Glenn Porter reached out to their colleagues and brought on more volunteers to help with educational programs.
“As I found more teachers that I knew, or she knew, we just collected a group of people who were very interested in continuing to work with children,” Glenn Porter said.
Sanders “did almost all the work” for the first 10 years after the friends group was founded, meeting with local and state elected leaders, promoting the need for restoring the buildings and working to raise funds, according to Porter.
The Friends of Jerusalem Mill has raised more than $2 million over the years and invested it in restoring and maintaining the village, according to Decker.
“Once you restore them, maintaining it, it’s just an endless process,” Porter said. “Some of the things we did first need to be redone again now, just like any house and any buildings.”
Porter said he would like to see all buildings in the village fully restored, noting that he wants to have it “maintained as an educational draw for the students.”
“Just from having taught and watched the students when they visit, I think it’s a really beneficial program to expose them to,” he said.
Porter noted that relationships with elected officials were “very instrumental” in moving the Gunpowder state park headquarters to the mill building.
“It’s a very good partnership, and the park rangers that work there are very dedicated,” Porter said.
Village still a draw despite pandemic
The park itself serves as a draw for the village — it normally hosts several annual fundraising events such as jousting tournaments, concerts and vintage baseball games, but those have not happened in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Attendance has increased by an estimated 50% to 75% this year, based on occupancy of the parking lot, as people come to use nearby walking trails. The village also is open for self-guided walking tours, and visitors can interact with volunteers such as Porter who are on duty, according to Decker.
People can visit the blacksmith shop on the weekends, as well as the mill museum and the 20th-century general store, which was run by local resident Samuel O. McCourtney from 1906 to 1939.
The building features displays about Confederate Maj. Harry Gilmor’s raid through the Baltimore region — including Harford County — in 1864 during the Civil War, as well as displays showing the history of the general store. The store displays include items such as store furniture and ledgers donated by McCourtney’s family, according to Porter.
“That holds a lot of interest for adults that visit the village,” Porter said of people who visit the general store and see goods purchased by their parents or grandparents.
Maintenance of the buildings and grounds is ongoing, too, despite the pandemic. People can come out on the second Saturday of each month and take care of various tasks, or they can volunteer with Jerusalem Mill’s adopt-a-highway project.
Porter also was recognized by the governor’s office for coordinating the adopt-a-highway program. His organization cares for a one-mile stretch of Route 152 between Old Joppa Road and the Mountain Branch Golf Club, and organizes volunteers to pick up trash along the highway.
“We have to give back to the community as it is, because people in the community have been very helpful to us in [building] restoration and supporting the [events] that we do,” Porter said.
Decker praised the volunteers who have supported Jerusalem Mill, including those who work with the friends group and the thousands of others who have donated time and money, such as businesses, faith organizations and Scout troops, to help restore and maintain the buildings and grounds.
“That’s how this village has survived for the last 35 years, and that’s how I’m hoping it will survive for the next 35 years, especially with people like Glenn Porter,” Decker said.