Hampstead Mayor Haven N. Shoemaker Jr. and the Town Council played Santa at their last meeting with a gift to push the restoration of the historic Western Maryland Railroad train station over a $15,000 shortfall.
The money puts the project back on track for a grand reopening in April, with the 1912 building transformed into a town museum and visitors center, said Councilman Wayne H. Thomas, who began working on it about a dozen years ago.
"This is terrific," Thomas said of the unexpected action last week at a council meeting. "I was just telling them what the situation was, where we were at. ... We found ourselves about $15,000 short of being able to complete the project."
Thomas, a councilman since 1993, did not vote on the action because he is president of the nonprofit Hampstead Train Station Committee, which he incorporated in September 1997 to restore the building. The station was a stop for passengers on the railroad's Old Dutch Line from Glyndon to Hanover, Pa.
"It came as a complete shock to Councilman Thomas," Town Manager Ken Decker said of the 4-0 council vote. "He was clearly moved and touched."
In the past, Thomas has run for mayor against Shoemaker and Councilman Christopher M. Nevin, a former mayor. All have the best interest of the town at heart, Decker said.
"The mayor put on his Santa hat and suggested it," Decker said, explaining that the town has money for Main Street projects but can't do any work on Main Street while waiting for a bypass to be built by the state. The train station, a block off Main Street, is in the plan.
"It has great historical significance for the town," Shoemaker said. "It's also part of our ongoing revitalization plans ... as a place being of some importance.
"The train station committee came up short, and we decided to step in" with a transfer from the capital budget to the Main Street project, Shoemaker said.
"It just goes to show you that politics is politics, and what's best for Hampstead is best for Hampstead," Thomas said.
About a year after he moved to town in 1991, Thomas began the drive to save the train station after finding it so decrepit that it was in danger of being demolished. There was a two-year delay for the acquisition of the building from CSX Corp. with the participation of the state attorney general's office, he said.
Thomas has been working with volunteers since March 1998, after acquiring the building from the town for $9,200 at 5 percent interest over 10 years.
Much work remains to be done, but Thomas hopes the restoration will be completed by the end of February so that the station can reopen in April.
The train station committee has ordered new doors, expected in about six weeks, because the original doors had deteriorated beyond restoration, Thomas said. Other work remaining includes finishing the floors, plumbing and electrical work, more exterior lighting and a ramp for the disabled.
The plywood is off the windows, and the chimney has been rebuilt. Tongue-and-groove wainscoting and period glass from the old Hampstead bank building have been installed, as has a $44,000 slate roof replacing the original, which had fallen in along with the underlying trusses and boards. The red and gray paint is new.
Local merchants including Reisterstown Lumber Co. and Martin's Sheet Metal Inc. of Hampstead have been helpful with their prices and patient about the bills that need paying, Thomas said.
The town's action means even more money coming in, he said. The Maryland Historical Trust granted the project $49,000 -- with 10 percent of it due upon completion -- and another $5,000 grant from Preservation Maryland is to be paid then.
Thomas said he personally guaranteed a $35,000 bank loan and has put $4,000 to $5,000 of his money into the project.
The town's $15,000 will enable the committee to use and occupy the building, and pay the bills, Thomas said. The committee will continue to seek donations to pay off the loan and for things such as refinishing the old ticket counter and creating display space for memorabilia.
"They just needed some help getting over the finish line," said Decker, a train enthusiast who has contributed to the project. "One more splash of cash will get it over."