Friday, July 2–County Village Offers Historic Glimpse Through Driving Tour

miles south of Snow Hill, the tiny village of Girdletree plays host to a
handful of people and a lot of history that the village would love to show off.

The Girdletree Village
Historical Foundation has been active since the 1990s, purchasing and
renovating the Barnes Bank and the freight station and creating a driving tour
of historic buildings, from the old feed mill to the former station master’s house.

Girdletree, located to
the south and east of Snow Hill, is a sleepy village with just 117 inhabitants
according to the 2000 census. Once, things were different.

“It was a really
bustling community,” said Sandra Hudson, president of the Girdletree Historical
Foundation, who was born and raised in the village. 

The fishing community
started on the bay, but gradually migrated west to the current site when the
rail line was built.

The railroad came in
1868 and was completed in 1876, the same year the freight station was built. A
town grew up around Girdletree Hill Farm, which gave the town its name.

The rail line carried
freight, such as oysters and clams, from local waters to Baltimore and
Philadelphia and passengers to regional destinations. The village had a hotel,
livery stable, blacksmith and several stores.

“The coming of the
railroad changed everything,” said Hudson.

Eventually, the town
faded because stores were unable to compete with bigger stores in nearby towns.
Bad economic times all took a toll.

The principal historic
attraction in Girdletree, the Barnes Bank, now a museum, was founded by George
Barnes, Sr., and George Barnes, Jr. in 1902. The bank closed its doors in the
early 1930s, a victim of the Great Depression.

The neat brick building
spent the next 60 years as offices and then a residence with the former bank
vault turned into a bedroom. Then the historical foundation purchased the
building in 1994. “We gutted it and started from scratch,” Hudson said.

The work included
restoring walls to their previous locations and adding a period teller station
from a bank in Cape Charles.

“All of our history is
being displayed right here. It’s the history of the town,” Hudson said,
pointing to displays about Girdletree founder Charles Bishop, the area’s
oystering and clamming industry, and the local blacksmith and wheelwright. 

The restoration of the
old rail freight station is Girdletree’s newest history project. The exterior
renovation, down to period correct yellow paint with brown trim, has just been
finished. The deteriorated interior is next.

“We just got some more
money, and we’ll be able to do a lot of work on the inside,” said Hudson.

The Sinepuxent Questors,
an organization that has supported Worcester County museums for some time,
donated the money to the project.

The historical
foundation is looking for freight station memories, information and memorabilia
from locals to help flesh out the station’s story.

The foundation would
also like to find a photograph of the old Girdletree school building, but have
so far been unsuccessful.

The freight station,
when completely restored, will display railroad history and house more of
Girdletree’s abundant local history, from displays on the chicken industry to
old post office boxes. The freight station office will be show as if a train is
about to stop and pick up cargo and passengers.

Girdletree, though
small, has history even behind closed doors.

Hudson owns and
occasionally opens to visitors a general store started by her grandfather in
1937, which he operated until he retired in 1979.

The store, a work in
progress, displays period food and drink containers, medicines and the original
butcher block. One day, the store could be open to visitors to add to
Girdletree’s historical attractions.

“We have lots of hopes
and dreams,” Hudson said.

One way the Girdletree
Village Historical Foundation makes those dreams happen is to sell homemade
cakes, by the slice or whole.

When Hudson and others
got together to form the Girdletree Historic Foundation and save Barnes Bank,
they didn’t even know what a historic foundation was, Hudson said.

Over 15 years later,
many of those original members have died, and younger people are not flocking
to take their place. Currently, the foundation relies on a handful of volunteers,
like Veronica Weiss, to keep going, even as the foundation works on big
projects like the freight station.

Barnes Bank is open two
days a week for visitors, on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 1 and 4 p.m.
Admission is free. The driving tour map can be picked up at the bank.

“We can tell you
everything about the whole town if you want,” said Hudson.