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Year-round harvest at Farm Museum

The Baltimore Sun

The Carroll County Farm Museum is 140 acres of agricultural history, with many buildings that offer exhibits detailing farm life from the latter half of the 1800s through the early 20th century.

But there is a flip side to the museum that visitors to a seasonal festival or other special event probably don't think about: It is a year-round business, educational center and community-oriented facility.

"You've got to be more than a museum," said Dottie Freeman, executive director. "You've got to make sure the first visit will be an enticement for a second visit - you have to have new venues for visitors to enjoy."

Those enticements might be an event, such as last year's Surf & Turf Festival; a new exhibit in the farmhouse display case or a display in one of the out buildings; a traditional arts class; or a theme tea in the Victorian parlor.

"That 'B' side is the focal point of the Farm Museum - you must have a mission statement," Freeman said. "We're still working on a master plan focusing on the buildings and different things."

The commissioner-appointed Farm Museum board of governors is composed of 11 members, "outside people looking in to help," said Chairman Harry Conover. "We're advisory, we do fundraising and discuss projects. We get involved in just about everything."

Freeman sees the Farm Museum primarily as a learning experience and an educational facility for everyone who visits.

"We have to lay out the Farm Museum to explain our ... era of the late 1800s to the early 1900s," she said.

To do that, Freeman, her staff, a core of dedicated volunteers and the board work closely together year-round to make the Farm Museum the renowned facility that it is.

"The Farm Museum is internationally known," she said. "We get mail from all over the world."

It also is an internationally attraction. The museum's 11 annual events each draw thousands of people from all over the world.

Last year's Maryland Wine Festival drew 20,000 visitors from 44 states and 12 countries.

The museum also is available for weddings, business meetings, company picnics and school tours, which see from 5,000 to 8,000 children visit annually.

Pet project

An educational pet project of Freeman's is the traditional arts classes that are offered year-round.

"The traditional arts classes are very popular," she said. "This is part of learning what it was all about in the 1800s."

Besides planning for all these activities and handling the business end of the museum, Freeman is coming up with new ideas to improve the physical aspects or aesthetics of a building or area, or an attraction for visitors.

Recently, she asked the maintenance staff for a new card rack for the administration building.

The next day, a workman came in and hung a handmade redwood-stained rack to hold tourism brochures.

"I say it, they do it, and it's done," Freeman said. "It's totally amazing."

Recent years have seen a variety of additions to the museum - a one-room log cabin school; a barn that was dismantled on Uniontown Road and rebuilt on the grounds; the planting of an heirloom garden; and installation of a giant checkerboard.

The complex is getting an electrical upgrade to handle the computer technology that the administrative staff now uses, and to support special events, Freeman said.

In the off season, the staff works to maintain the grounds, buildings, exhibits and some 10,000-plus artifacts the museum owns, from postcards to large farm wagons.

As the Farm Museum's spring season of activities approaches, staff and volunteers are busy cleaning and getting the buildings, signs and displays ready for the thousands of visitors who will pass through in the coming months.

Freeman also works closely with the community to get projects done as well as to save money, get publicity and raise additional funds.

One group that is always available is Boy Scouts in search of projects as they work toward the rank of Eagle Scout.

Just in the past 10 years, Scouts have cleaned up the bluebird trail, laid brick walkways around buildings, built bookshelves for a classroom, repaired and painted fencing around the garden, whitewashed the springhouse, replaced the pavilion roof, and completed numerous other renovations.

"The Scouts camp here a lot," Freeman said. "The Scouts are helping us, and we're helping them."

Film in the works

She also is currently working with physical therapy students at Carroll Community College on a service learning project to create a film, with the students in period costume, of the museum to help all visitors to see the entire complex, inside and out.

The museum also is part of the county Board of Education's summer enrichment program for students who visit the facility to learn about farm life 150 years ago.

And the museum is the site of eight nonprofit organizations that have annual walkathons to raise money for their causes, ranging from the Alzheimer's Association to the March of Dimes.

"The walkathons are one of the most important and significant things I've done," Freeman said. "I didn't want to charge people to come in, so I said if they put the Farm Museum on their brochure and T-shirt, they can have it as a starting and ending point."

Last year's walks earned $180,000, she said.

"It's people helping each other," Freeman said. "It's an open-arm museum."

The Carroll County Farm Museum is at 500 S. Center St., Westminster 21157. It is open for group tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, April through October; and from noon to 5 p.m. weekends, May through October. Group tours are $3 per person; school tours are $2 per student and chaperone; general admission is $5, $3 for ages 7 to 18 and 60 and over, and free for younger than 6. Information: 410-386-3880.

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