Taylor House Museum Continues To Evolve; Berlin’s Historic Home Looking To Expand Hours With Help Of Volunteers

Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – Uncle Ned’s electric shoes. The “treasure chest” behind the Treasure Chest. Calvin B. Taylor’s desk.

They represent just a few of the fragments of the past on display in Berlin’s Taylor House Museum. The historic home, saved from demolition in the early 1980s, is full of 19th century furniture and exhibits depicting the various periods of Berlin’s past.

“Even though we’re a small community we’re full of rich, diverse history,” said Carol Rose, a member of the museum’s board of directors.

She’s hoping more people will take the time to explore that history this year with the museum’s new extended hours.

For the first time, the facility will open in the morning, at 11 a.m., and remain open until 3 p.m. There’s even the chance the museum, which is open to the public Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between Memorial Day and the end of October, will increase its days of operation.

“If we get enough docents, we’d love to be open six days a week,” Rose said.

Walking through the museum this week, Rose and curator Susan Taylor were eager to show off the wealth of relics displayed within its walls. The 1832 home is decorated just as it would have been then, from the lavishly wallpapered entrance to the hand-knotted curtains draping the windows to the painted portraits on the walls. The house itself, explained Taylor, was built for the Covington family in 1832 though its most notable resident, Calvin B. Taylor, purchased it in the 1890s. It was last inhabited in the 1970s, when it was operated as an apartment house.

“There was talk they were going to tear down the house and the trees,” Rose said.

To the relief of concerned citizens, however, the property was purchased by the town and gradually restored.

“The town’s been a wonderful partner,” Rose said. “The museum anchors this end of town.”

While the house was open for tours not long after it was turned into a museum, Rose believes that in the last 20 years, with donations of period furniture and careful restoration work, the museum has truly blossomed.

The Arcadia Questers, a local group that supports historic preservation, has played a key role at the Taylor House.

“Each year they ask us for items on our wish list,” Taylor said.

In addition to providing funding that has enabled the museum to purchase things like floor coverings, the group has also loaned the museum some of the items on display inside.

“They’re very supportive of the museum,” Taylor said.

An interior room of the Taylor House Museum features a portrait of Mary White, who built the house. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

An interior room of the Taylor House Museum features a portrait of Mary White, who built the nearby Robin’s Nest home. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

Of course many items have also been donated by local families during the past three decades. Ties to local history can be found throughout the house. Mary White, who built the expansive West Street home known as Robins Nest, is pictured in a painting above the fireplace at the Taylor House. Rose recounted the way early 19th century artists would often pre-paint a subject’s torso and simply fill in the face when they were hired by a particular family.

“Artists would go around to different communities,” Rose said. “They’d have the portraits all done except for the face. Then they’d come to your house and paint your face… We think that may have been what happened here.”

In an adjacent room, a small wooden chest donated by the family that first opened the Treasure Chest, originally located down the street from where it is now, sits on a table.

“I guess it was a document box but she called it a treasure chest and that’s where she got the name for the store,” Taylor said.

Just inside the front door, visitors can study the grandfather clock once owned by Cedar Avenue resident Margaret Wimbrow.

“We were over the moon to get that,” Rose said.

Nearby, the glass ballot box once used in Berlin elections is used to collection donations from those entering the museum.

While the ground floor of the Taylor House is representative of an 1800s era home, the second floor is that and more. Bedrooms feature period furniture and clothing while a gallery is filled with mementos, pictures and articles from Berlin’s past. Visitors can’t miss the immense cash register once used at Burbage-Powell and Co., the town’s early 20th century clothing store. Copies of old advertisements bring attention to the store’s $2.95 dresses.

Rose pointed out photos that depicted the three hotels that operated in Berlin near the turn of the century. Along with the existing Atlantic Hotel, there was the Park Hotel where town hall sits now and the Majestic Hotel on the property currently occupied by Fins Ale House.

“Berlin was a bustling community when it first got started,” Rose said.

The lodging establishments were filled with guests coming into town via the railroad, which discharged passengers at a station where the firehouse now stands.

Along with samples of clothing owned by Berlin residents in years past, the upstairs exhibit includes the electric shoes—known for certain “spooky” effects—worn by Ned France, proprietor of Uncle Ned’s Bargain Fair.

“If you wanted something you’d go to the door, because you couldn’t get in, and tell Uncle Ned or his mom what you wanted and they would get it,” Rose recalled.

Taylor agreed.

“He had so much stuff in there,” she said. “He knew where everything was.”

Reprints of newspaper clippings from each decade form a timeline along one wall. One from 1910 states that “Berlin now boasts 12 automobiles” and suggests a parade of vehicles. Another from 1912 describes how an Ocean City woman was dipped in tar for her questionable morals.

One of Rose’s favorite exhibits is a section on the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley, a Berlin native who was honored by the Smithsonian as the father of gospel.

Taylor House Museum Board member Carol Rose shows off a treasure chest display. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

Taylor House Museum Board member Carol Rose shows off a treasure chest display. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

“Calvin B. Taylor taught Rev. Tindley to read,” Rose said.

The museum also includes exhibits on Glen Riddle Farm, Harrison’s Nurseries, Stephen Decatur, William D. Pitts and even Jesse Hollins—the Berlin native who invented the turn signal—among numerous others.

“It’s a good place to start a tour of the town,” Taylor said.

While the museum, which gets about 2,000 visitors a year, receives a fair amount of interested guests, board members are hoping for more volunteer docents to provide them with tours. Rose says anyone is welcome to volunteer, whether they can do so regularly or not. No experience is needed, as veteran docents are paired with new volunteers.

“We just want to get people interested,” she said. “Once someone comes in and does it they love it.”

The museum will kick off a busy season by hosting a Berlin Chamber of Commerce after-hours event on April 27. On May 18, the museum will offer free tours for International Museum Day. The Taylor House officially launches its new 11 a.m.-3 p.m. schedule May 27. For more information, call 410-641-1019.

Schedule Of Events

April 27. Berlin Chamber of Commerce After Hours

May 18. International Museum Day

May 27. Opens for season

June 4. Afternoon on the Lawn

June 11. Concert on the Lawn

July 9. Concert on the Lawn

Aug. 5. Berlin Peach Festival

Aug. 13. Concert on the Lawn

Sept. 10. Concert on the Lawn

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.