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Restored house offers a taste of 19th century

The Baltimore Sun

In 1807, a house on Westminster's Main Street was built for Jacob Sherman, a Pennsylvania German innkeeper.

Two hundred years later, the restored Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House has been reopened for tours, after years of determination and dedication from members of the Historical Society of Carroll County to see the structure return to its 19th-century roots.

"It was really a dream of mine that the house be restored and used as a house museum," said Timmi Pierce, executive director of the historical society. "I really wanted it to go back to its original start. I wanted to make sure that people could visit the house and grasp how life was."

The society welcomes visitors to the house on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and group tours by appointment.

Named for the three families who called it home at different times, the Main Street house boasted a rare dining room addition that indicated wealth.

In 1833, John Fisher, a cashier at the Bank of Westminster, bought the house. Finally, the Shellman family occupied it, and Mary Shellman, who acquired the property in 1909, was considered "an icon of Carroll County history," Pierce said. She is known for her work as a Red Cross volunteer and for starting the county's Memorial Day parade.

Pierce said she wanted to make sure children and adults could come into the newly refurnished house and learn about how life was for those three families.

In May, third-graders from Freedom District Elementary were given a taste of 19th-century customs, clothing and parlor games. Since then, some adult groups have also made their way through the house, said Cathy Baty, the society's curator.

The official restoration process began in the early 1980s, with a design and plan for returning the home to how it looked in 1807, inside and out. Up until then, the house had been used at times as the headquarters of the historical society, whose founders had prevented the building's demolition in 1939, Pierce said.

Some tours also were given, "but it was shown to the tourist as used by the three families," said Diana Scott, a volunteer for the society since 1975. "Their desire was to take it back to the Sherman family, the first family that lived here."

That desire meant erasing the stamps of progress on the house over the years, Baty said.

Out went most of the electricity, as did the plumbing, bathrooms and kitchens. On the building's west side, Baty said, a brick wall had been removed and replaced with a two-story bay window.

"We usually think of modernizing a house," Baty said. "We did the opposite."

Detail was observed, down to the house colors and its accessories, Pierce said. Family inventories and wills were used to determine what was in the house before the next owners arrived, she said, and papers and diaries helped flesh out what the place looked like.

Most of the items in the house were "given to us by the community members and our society members," Scott said. "That's how we really re-create history."

History, in the form of the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House, was almost fully recreated in the early 1990s. The home serves to demonstrate the daily activities of a family of Pennsylvania Germans - a large community in 19th-century Carroll County.

More work lies ahead, Pierce said, as the society plans to transform the upstairs into the children's and servant's rooms. The house still has some minor accessories and details she wants to add, she said, as the society gears up for additional school and group tours this fall.

"We're just getting off the ground right now," Pierce said. "We still have some things we want to add in here and there, but we have really accomplished a lot."

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