When Catonsville and Ellicott City flooded due a historic storm on May 27 during which more than 10 inches of rain fell in two hours, the Catonsville Historical Society got hit with about 18 inches of water in its museum and its basement was completely submerged — ruining over 150 years worth of the Catonsville Times newspapers, among the damage done.
Anne Luco, the society’s president, said volunteers were “picking trains out of the rafters” in the basement where a train garden, typically on public display during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, had been set up.
Water on the main floor of the 75-year-old building damaged four display cases and a desk, ruined the carpet and some subflooring, and damaged drywall.
The building’s hot water heater and air conditioning unit may have to be replaced, Luco said. There did not appear to be structural damage to the building.
Luco estimates the Catonsville Historical Society is facing a price tag of about $50,000 to restore the damaged building.
The museum’s artifacts are in storage while the basement continues to dry out and the main floor is repaired. Some portraits, untouched by floodwater, still hang on the walls.
Almost the entire museum collection was spared except the society’s collection of archived copies of the Catonsville Times newspaper.
In 2016, the building was flooded causing $9,000 in damage but did not destroy any artifacts.
Luco said the deluges and continuing rainy weather have not made things easy.
“It’s just made it stressful. We haven’t taken any more water, but we keep going down checking … I would just feel better if the rain would stop and let the ground dry up,” she said.
The Catonsville Historical Society is planning a fundraiser in mid-September that will feature local food, live music and a home brew beer competition, Luco said. Proceeds will go toward rebuilding costs.
The society is also accepting donations, which can be mailed to P.O. Box 9311, Catonsville, MD 21228. Donors can also contact the historical society by phone or email to make donations, which are tax-deductible.
Additionally, the ramifications of the flood have caused the group to reconsider some of its operations.
Luco said, for example, that they will probably not replace the carpeting on the main floor of the museum. They will no longer store items of significant value in the basement because of the risk of more flooding.
The train garden could be moved from the main building to an annex on the property.
Ben Landrum, a volunteer with the society, was largely responsible for revitalizing the train garden after flooding in 2016. Landrum said nothing he’s experienced compares to the damage the Catonsville Historical Society faced this year.
“It’s just unreal. It’s been through a couple of floods, but nothing that totally destroyed it,” he said. “This totally destroyed it.”
Landrum said he’s spent about $900 out-of-pocket to repair the model train engines at a shop in Mount Airy. He wants to reconstruct a train garden at the society.
The train garden was donated to the historical society in 1975 from the Catonsville Fire Department, which assembled the garden for the first time in the 1960s.
Landrum said it might take a long time to completely rebuild the train garden in the annex building — which needs to be weatherproofed, according to Luco — so the society may set up a smaller train garden in the main museum once repairs are complete.
Luco said she was not sure when, exactly, repair work could be completed. For now, she said the historical society is looking ahead to hosting its fall fundraiser outside and its December open house inside the museum.
“That’s our goal,” Luco said. “My gosh I hope we’re back by then.”