Train museum honors Shore town, famous son


SUDLERSVILLE -- Just a few years ago it looked like the end of the line for the tiny train station in this Eastern Shore town.

But recently the old building got fired up again, this time as the Sudlersville Train Station Museum.

And this museum has all the trimmings of Americana: arrowheads, gaslights and baseballs.

Especially baseballs.

One of the most prized items on display is a ball autographed by Connie Mack's 1932 Philadelphia Athletics. The ball is there to celebrate one of Sudlersville's favorite sons and most famous former resident, Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx, a player on the '32 Athletics. Mr. Foxx was born and raised here. He died in 1967. His legend lives on in the world of baseball, of course, and in the collective memory of Sudlersville.

At ceremonies dedicating the new museum last week, the museum promoters were selling baseball bats, caps and books commemorating Mr. Foxx.

As a baseball player, he was best known as a home run hitter. In 1932, he hit 58 of them -- just two shy of Babe Ruth's then-record 60. Mr. Foxx went on from Philadelphia to play for the Boston Red Sox.

Among the people of Sudlersville, he was known as "a fine person," according to Marjorie Clements, a force behind the museum project. "There's an army of people out here who appreciate him," she said.

Even before the museum, there was a Foxx monument and a library display of Jimmie Foxx memorabilia.

"The museum's mostly for the children," said Mary Godfrey, the museum chairwoman. "We want to give them a place to learn about their town." The spruced-up building evokes an era when Eastern Shore peaches and strawberries supplied New York markets and children rode the train to a school in the next town.

For Mrs. Clements and other members of the Sudlersville Community Betterment Club, the renovation project has been a lesson in how much has changed and how much remains the same.

There were just 15 houses in town when the first train, pulled by a wood-burning engine called Queen Anne, thundered through Sudlers Crossroads in 1869. The town started to grow immediately.

First, railroad engineers moved to the area with their families. Then came peach canneries, granaries and a milk plant. Schools were built, more businesses opened and soon Sudlers Crossroads had become Sudlersville. The town was incorporated in 1870, one year after the Queen Anne first called.

When cars and trucks arrived, the railroad business began to run out of steam. Passenger trains stopped running on Eastern Shore rails in 1939. Although the trains continue, they carry only freight to companies with warehouses along the tracks.

One of the last station agents, J. Wilbur Stafford, retired in 1961 after 47 years with the Pennsylvania Railroad. The station closed four years later. Stafford's widow bought the station in 1987 and gave it to the Betterment Club.

Mrs. Clements was the renovation project's fund-raising chairwoman. First came a $6,000 state grant, then $3,000 from the Queen Anne Historical Society in a grant that called for matching funds. This meant it was time to pass the hat. "I tried to send a letter to every person, by name, in Sudlersville," Mrs. Clements said.

In a town like this one, it can be done. There are 450 people, according to the 1990 census.

"Everybody knows somebody," Mrs. Clements explained. "I took my own list to the Betterment Club and I said, 'Betty, who's that lady that lives across from you?' " On the strength of that mailing and a few others, the club has collected more than 100 donations.

People here have fueled the museum project with their time and effort as well. The local Lions Club took on the interior demolition work. Nearly 25 years of soot, grime and cracked plaster have been stripped away. The original wainscoting and hardwood floors have been restored. Air conditioning and new light fixtures have been added.

Now the building is ready for the bits of history Ms. Godfrey is collecting. Photos, maps, an old globe from the days when the lamp lighter came to town and an ax that was used to split wood for the engine have already come in, she says.

And, of course, there are the baseball memorabilia.

The collection includes a letter from Red Sox legend Ted Williams. He recalls his rookie days when Mr. Foxx, an established star, took time to help him learn his way around.

That's the sort of thing people in Sudlersville like to remember about Jimmy Foxx.

And now they have a museum in which to do it.

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