John Gruber Exhibit Opens at the
Rural Heritage Museum
n mid-2015, partners of the Gruber Almanack, Town and Country Almanack were invited to tour The Rural Heritage Museum of Washington County, Maryland. Three 7,200 square-foot metal buildings occupy the museum’s grounds, located in Boonsboro, Maryland, and each houses many fascinating exhibits, depicting early rural life, ranging from a huge array of household, commercial, and trade items to large pieces of farm equipment and hundreds of farm implements. Its newest building houses a spectacular transportation exhibit highlighting local modes of transportation, most dating prior to 1940. It even boasts of a typical 1800s homestead, complete with two log homes, an outdoor drying shed, a windmill, and a brick wood- fired bread oven, and a small village of authentic period buildings representing a church, doctor’s office with medicinal gardens, a blacksmith, cobbler, and broom makers shops.
Special events are held throughout the year, the most popular being their annual Spudfest. Potatoes grown in the museum’s gardens are harvested in late summer by a horse-drawn plow. Children are encouraged to "get dirty” picking the crop. Other popular events are the Spring & Winter Holiday Open House, Farm and Apple Fests, and A Country Breakfast Buffet. The grounds are usually bustling with various activities and demonstrations that include the baking of artisan breads, colonial hearth cooking, activities in the colonial garden, crafts for children, blacksmithing, spinning, weaving and rug hooking, broom- and candle-making, sawmill, stone crushing, and so much more!
Over the years, the museum has amassed a fascinating array of period artifacts through the generosity of its members, donors from around the world, and from the local community. It just so happens that Gruber partner and Business Manager, Jerry Spessard’s family is listed among the museum’s many local donors! The Spessard family donated a rare and beautifully-restored 1910 Regal Touring Car. It was purchased for $1,250 and served as Hagerstown’s very first taxi! The family bought the car when it was brand new in 1910, traveled by train to Detroit where it was made, paid cash for it, and then, drove it back to Hagerstown. The car never left the family and was garage-kept along with old milk trucks for many years until it was donated to the museum sometime in the late 1970s.
Though the museum is not fully accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM), they strive to upgrade its buildings and exhibits to conform to its standards. Though challenging, accreditation would allow the museum to borrow and display artifacts from other museums and educational institutions.
Despite this, the museum is, without a doubt, one of the best! It offers us a unique glimpse into our past with its perfect preservation of an earlier American life. The museum is supported through the dedication and hard work of its many members who volunteer their time and services. Admission to the museum is always free but donations are always encouraged! For more information about this great representation of rural colonial life, go to https://www.washco-md.net/parks-facilities/rural-heritage-museum/.
The tour was also an opportunity for Martha Bowen, museum cataloger/registrar and local historian to solicit the Gruber partners’ support. "Marty’, as she likes to be called, had come across several vintage copies of John (Johann) Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack when cataloging another collection back in 2008. They were stored away for future reference until 2015 when several copies were used in an exhibit epitomizing rural life. Her interest was piqued and after more research, she became intrigued with Gruber’s story: a story that went far beyond his famous almanac and one that included a number of other significant contributions Gruber made to America’s history. That gave her the idea to develop a special exhibit around Gruber and his achievements. But to make that happen, she had to deal with a series of challenges. First, she needed to gain the approval of her museum to sponsor such an exhibit and once approved, identify materials needed.
Next, she needed to identify and procure historical materials that would tell the Gruber story. Finally, she would have to design an exhibit that was both an informative and meaningful one as well as AAM-compliant. With the museum’s approval, she was now reaching out for resources and support. Of course, the Gruber partners were deeply honored to have Gruber’s works recognized and quickly agreed, offering several key pieces to the exhibit. They included the original wooden print block of the front cover of the first 1797 edition, a copper printing plate of Gruber’s famous Large Number Multiplication Table, several rare copies of past issues in both German and English, and numerous framed awards issued to The Almanack over the years from The Maryland State Arts (Maryland Traditions Program) and The City of Hagerstown, Maryland.
For more GRUBER EXHIBIT OPENS AT THE RURAL HERITAGE MUSEUM, click here.