Thurmont Center for Agricultural History

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By Mary K. Mannix, Frederick County Public Libraries. All Photos by Mary K. Mannix.

Originally appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of The Crab, a quarterly publication of the Maryland Library Association

This past August saw the opening of the Thurmont Center for Agricultural History, located in the new Thurmont Regional Library of Frederick County Public Libraries. The purpose of the Thurmont Center is to collect materials that document the agricultural history of Frederick County and the surrounding region. The Center strives to provide researchers with the necessary tools to guide their agriculture related research, whether it pertains to family history, house or property research, the history of rural voluntary organizations, or a scholarly study of farming. The Center is a partnership between Frederick County Public Libraries’ Thurmont Regional Library and its Maryland Room, located in the C. Burr Artz Library. The Maryland Room oversees the accessioning, archival processing and long range curatorial care of the collection. The Thurmont staff handles book processing, access, and daily curatorship.

Frederick County is a very appropriate place to locate such a center, as it has a significant agricultural heritage. The German population which was instrumental in the 18th century settlement of Frederick County, which at that time included today’s Montgomery County, a portion of Carroll County, and all of the state to the west, brought with them a way of farming which transformed agricultural practice in Maryland. Simply put, diversified family farms replaced the slave driven tobacco “plantations” as our state’s primary means of agriculture.

The Center’s collection includes both primary and secondary sources. At the time of its opening, it held 11 archival and manuscript collections. These include the records of five different granges. The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry is a nineteenth century fraternal organization. The Grange developed during a time, after the Civil War, when agriculture was undergoing rapid change. There was no other organized entity to speak for the farming community. The Grange’s mission as they describe it on their webpage “provides opportunities for individuals and families to develop to their highest potential in order to build stronger communities and states, as well as a stronger nation.”

The grange has a standard hierarchical structure. There is the national grange, state granges, county granges, known as Pomona, and community granges (the subordinates). The Thurmont Center for Agricultural History has the records of the Frederick County Pomona Grange, material from the Maryland State Grange and collections from three of Frederick County’s subordinate granges. The Center seeks to acquire material from all of the County’s granges in order to present as complete a picture as possible of these pivotal organizations’ work in the community. Due to the Grange’s dedication to service and their political activities, these collections present more than simply the group’s rudimentary membership activities. These collections also provide a great deal of information on the Great Frederick Fair, the county fair.

From the beginning of the Grange, both men and women played important roles in the organization. Agricultural women, however, were also involved in other agricultural voluntary organizations, the most famous being “The Homemakers.” The Homemakers developed out of the County Extension Office, as did 4-H for children and young adults. The Thurmont Center holds three collections relating to county Homemakers groups. These collections include a variety of print media, such as photographs, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks. This coverage is twentieth century based.

One of the room’s largest collections and the one which offers the deepest information about the County’s history are the annual reports of the Frederick County Cooperative Extension and Homemaker Agents. The Cooperative Extension has its basis in a variety of federal laws. The first, the Morrill Act, which passed in 1862, established land grant colleges in every state. These colleges would be to the “Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts.” This act is one of the 100 milestone documents on the National Archives’ “Our Documents” website, www.ourdocuments.gov/content.php?flash=false&page=milestone. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act provided funds for the information gleaned from the research at these schools to be taken out to farmers. This was a cooperative effort between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the schools. Today, every state has a central office and a variety of local representatives. Maryland has 29 offices. Further information can be found at the extension website.

The Extension Service Collection was acquired by the Maryland Room in 1989 and was the beginning of the development of the Center’s holdings. It contains reports extending back to 1917. They are mixed media and heavily illustrated with newspaper clippings, printed ephemera, hand-drawn maps, and photographs. A finding aid to the over 1,000 photographs, based on the report captions, will soon be available on the Center’s webpage. A finding aid based on the newspaper headlines of the clippings has begun. These reports truly present an overview of the County’s history during a significant portion of the twentieth century. They are a window into a way of life that is rapidly disappearing as Frederick becomes a Washington, D.C. bedroom community.

Of potential interest to researchers outside the Frederick region is the collection of Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletins. It consists of 381 individual titles published in the early and mid twentieth century. Titles run the gamut from Alfalfa on Corn-Belt Farms to Business Records for Poultry Keepers, from Fitting, Showing and Judging Hogs to Shall I Buy a Combine? These thin paperback publications provide an overview of the science of agriculture. They are not yet in the on-line catalog and are treated as a manuscript collection. An inventory can be found online.

The book collection consists of over 90 titles, all located on the FCPL online catalog. The entire listing can be seen by using the “Thurmont Center for Agricultural History” selection in the location choice under the power search option on the catalog. While most of these titles are agriculture related, the Center also serves as the permanent rare book repository for local authors, local history, and genealogy. The bulk of the collection is from the private library of David Eigenbrode, a Frederick County career extension professional, now retired. Titles in this collection go back to 1881, such as the Illustrated Stock Doctor & Livestock Encyclopedia. The collection consists of textbooks, manuals, and government documents from both the state and federal levels.

The Maryland room has been actively collecting agricultural materials for ten years. The archival and book holdings of the Thurmont Center for Agricultural History were rehoused and processed under the guidance of the Maryland Room. It took over two years to complete and at various times included the efforts of ten FCPL staff members, two library school students, two college interns, ten high school volunteers, and several other volunteers. The rehousing of the collection was supported by a National Endowment of Humanities Preservation Assistance Grant to Small Institutions.

The Center provides research opportunities not only in agricultural history, but also in land use, environmental studies, women’s history, and family history. It also serves as documentation of the twentieth century, a time period only now being documented.

It is open seven days a week and can be accessed through the adult services reference desk. Researchers are asked to follow basic special collection guidelines including using pencil only, locking up personal possessions, and photocopying by staff intervention. It is recommended, however, that patrons call ahead so that the staff can be ready to more effectively assist them. Parking at the building is free and plentiful.

For further information about the Center please call 301-600-7212 to speak to Erin Dingle, the Thurmont Regional Branch Administrator or Melissa Snyder, the librarian with special responsibility for the Center. The FCPL Maryland room can be reached at 301-600-1368. You can also visit the center's webpage.

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