Rural Heritage Museum: A Step Back In Time

Rural Heritage Museum
A Step Back In Time
by Mary Ellen Roelkey

I opened the door and the aroma of freshly baked cookies wafted across the room. The morning Marge Peters invited me to the Rural Heritage Museum was cookie-baking day! The scent tickled my senses and drew me in the direction of the kitchen where the ladies (volunteers) congregated. Busy hands stirred, rolled, patted and shoved sheets of sweet dough in and out of the ovens. After cooling several minutes the golden brown goodies were then placed into tins and stored awaiting the Museums' Holiday Open House, not far away.
A walk through the Rural Heritage Museum is like taking a step back in time. The many exhibits depict the achievements and struggles of farmers in the 1800's.
Among the farm tools are harvesters, potato sorters, cultivators and horse drawn plows. Not your ordinary farm museum, there are displays of rooms in the Victorian era with an array of artifacts representing that period. The authentic Keedysville Post Office, dated 1914, has been erected for display. You will find buggies, sleighs and an original Conestoga wagon, which traveled the National Road from Baltimore to Wheeling many years ago.
Leslie Hendrickson handles the administrative duties associated with the Museum. The Volunteers (Friends) of the Rural Heritage Museum handle the operation and management of the museum. Roughly there are 185 members. All have various committees they participate in to keep things up and going. Just a few of the committees are fundraising, special events, accessions, display, resource library, docents and school. The float committee can be very proud; in the Hancock Parade they took first place and won third place in the Mummers Parade.
A majority of the Museum pieces have been gifted; some, like the Country Store are on loan. This display, previously stored in the Miller House basement, is here thanks to the Washington County Historical Society; everything contained within the store is authentic and even includes a checkerboard complete with corncob checkers.
When asked what were the prized pieces Leslie quickly said, "The Conestoga Wagon, though I love the quilts...that is where my passion lies." Sally Waltz (a volunteer) told me, "The plow, for without the plow you couldn't do anything, that is where it begins." The white horse standing in front of the country store with a plow at its rear is also a favorite of the female volunteers.
The community supports the Museum that has been in existence since May 2001. The 7,200 square-foot building is housed on the Washington County Agricultural Education Center near Sharpsburg. "Its purpose is to preserve the rural heritage of Washington County prior to 1940," Leslie told me.
Space is one of their largest obstacles; many of the larger donated items are in storage. Leslie said, "We have several large cupolas which were actually made locally at Danzer Metals; they are in storage." The plans for an additional building have been approved and construction will begin approximately in six months. This new building will be erected adjacent to the existing one and will house the larger items.
Marge Peters, a long time volunteer, first with the Miller House and now with the Rural Heritage Museum, told me that the greatest challenge they face are "finances and having enough volunteers--you don't operate a non-profit organization with out your volunteers."
Future plans are to build a Rural Heritage Village. Several log cabins have been gifted and relocated to the center. "The proposal is to have a working Village. We will have a church, school, store, working Black Smith shop. There are buildings here right now, a pig pen, out house, chicken coop, and two log cabins a bigger one and a smaller one," Leslie said. One of the cabins, now under construction, will have a working stone fireplace with the hope of having live demonstrations. The plan is to include a wood chip walkway connecting the sites. Because the Museum is volunteer based...this will be a slow process.
The Museum is open April through December, Saturday and Sunday, 12PM to 4PM. Many groups such as schools, senior citizens, Boy and Girl Scout troops, other museums, church groups and various other organizations have toured. You can call Leslie in the office Monday through Friday 10AM to 2PM to book your tour.
Leslie told me that they are having a Winter Speakers Series this winter. "In January we are hoping to have a speaker to talk on life in rural Washington County after the Civil War. In February, Mindy Marsden from the Miller House is coming; she will identify the ages of photographs based upon clothing and style and background. In March we are going to try and do a quilt show."
Each year several short-term exhibits are on display. The volunteers are excited about the Special Exhibit in December--an Antique Toy Display.
Throughout December, courtesy of the Washington County Homemakers, the Museum will be adorned with traditional holiday decorations.
Many exciting things are happening at this complex in southern Washington County.
You too can travel backward in time and realize the challenges our forefathers faced in this primitive era of the 1800's.
Start your tour with the twenty-minute informative video and then the knowledgeable docents will gladly guide you through the exhibits or let you explore on your own answering any questions you may have.
The admission is free though donations are appreciated. The Rural Heritage Museum is located on Rt.65. Take a ride and visit the area; it is mid-way between Hagerstown and Sharpsburg at 7313 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro Maryland. You can just drop in, or call and make an appointment (240-313-2839).