Before Historic Ellicott City Inc. saved it, the B&O; Railroad Station Museum was an abandoned, run-down relic slated for destruction by railroad officials.
Now, the 165-year-old station is a repository of railroad artifacts and Civil War memorabilia, drawing model train enthusiasts and history buffs from all over the world.
Last week, the historic preservation group touted the museum as one of its successes at a 20th-anniversary party. (Although the group was formed 23 years ago, members are just now celebrating the 20th anniversary.)
Ellicott City is comparable to Annapolis in its variety of historic sites, said Gerald Talbert, the group's immediate past president. "We feel it's important for people to preserve their past," he said.
And for that, Pat Hornback and her three children are grateful. The Crawfordsville, Ind., woman who visited the museum last week said it captured the attention of her children, especially 3-year-old Patrick, who fell in love with the 1927 redcaboose. "He wanted to bring it home and put it in his back yard," Ms. Hornback said.
Formed in 1972, the 300-member preservation group has quietly saved a number of historic structures from extinction. They include the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin off Ellicott Mills Drive and the George Ellicott House, a 205-year-old Oella landmark that belonged to the son of one of Ellicott City's founders.
The group also played a key role in creating Ellicott City's historic district and the Historic District Commission, a seven-member board that governs development and architectural standards in historic districts in Ellicott City and Elkridge.
"That helps preserve the character of the buildings," said Herb Johl, a former president who served from 1977 to 1981. Without the group's preservation efforts, historic Ellicott City "probably would not have the character it has now."
One of the group's most successful projects was the B&O; Railroad Station Museum. Once considered a prime candidate for demolition, the building was restored in 1983 by the group and county officials.
Now, the group maintains the nation's oldest railroad terminus as a museum, featuring model trains, a recurring Civil War exhibit, re-enactment events and a gift shop.
This year, the group and the museum received national awards for their role in making two Civil War videos seen by Howard County fifth- and eighth-graders.
"We like to think of it as the crown jewel," Mr. Johl said of the museum.
The group cares just as deeply about the town's future. Most recently, it contributed money to a parking study of historic Ellicott City and formed a partnership with the town's business association and a 15-year-old civic group charged with revitalizing the historic area.
"We've joined forces with the town's leaders," Mr. Talbert said.
A 13-member board of directors oversees the group, raising most of its funds through its decorator show house series.
Since the first decorator show house in 1984, the series has raised about $200,000.
"For being quite a little group, it sure has done a lot," said Ed Williams, director of the B&O; Railroad Station Museum.