UNION MILLS The
Shriver Homestead Since 1797
[This is the 1997 addendum to the
1957 "Red Book" by Frederic
THE HISTORY of Union Mills written by Frederic Shriver Klein in 1957 ends with a poignant question: how long can the old homestead and the mill further withstand age, time and weather? So long as the house and mill stand the question remains, but this postscript, written forty years on, suggests an optimistic answer.
As it turns out, 1957 marked a turning point in the history of the homestead, with a death and a rebirth. The death, on March the 10th of that year, was of Elizabeth Shriver Kemp (Bessy), aged 88 years, last surviving child of Henry Wirt Shriver and, more importantly, the last Shriver who lived her life at the homestead. The rebirth was of the homestead itself, as it began the transition from being a lived-in residence to becoming recognized as an historical time capsule. In 1950 the house had come into the hands of three brothers, Frederic Shriver Klein, Philip Shriver Klein, and Richard Henry Klein, sons of Winifred Shriver Klein, daughter of Henry Wirt Shriver, son of Andrew Kaiser Shriver, son of Andrew Shriver. The mill property had gone to William Shriver in 1848 in settlement of Andrew Shriver's estate, and from there became the property of the B.F. Shriver Company.
In 1954, the Klein brothers and the Company reached an agreement by which the mill was transferred to the Kleins. The next few years found the Klein brothers, most particularly Fred, trying part-time to operate Union Mills as a working farm, apparently much to the amusement of the nearby residents. But while the efforts to spread fertilizer and bale hay may have been less than an exhibit of scientific farming, the transition from farm to museum was beginning. Water again flowed in the mill race, a ditch which had long been dry. In celebration, Fred invited his brothers to "YE OLDE TYME WATER CARNIVAL", which among other things included "Ye Banquet: Maryland Fried Chicken, Patch potatoes, corn, Shriver aspic, Union Mills watermelon." (The first corn roast?)
The brothers took the first steps toward renovating the dangerously decrepit mill. In July, 1954 Fred reports that with his wife Florence, he cleaned the first floor of the mill, replaced broken windows, re-framed and hung doors on the first and second floor, and painted window sills and doors. "For the first time since 1942 the mill has a mysteriously closed front door, and all the windows in front with clean whole glass. He adds, "this will not cost the partnership anything -- about $20 worth of glass, a little paint and nails, and a vast amount of amateur labor...." (Letter from FSK to his two brothers, July 20, 1954) Little did he know what he was starting.
That the Klein brothers should be interested in historic preservation is not surprising. They were sons of a historian, Harry Martin John Klein, and two of them, Frederic and Philip, were themselves professors of American history. Perhaps most importantly, they inherited the Shriver gene for keeping everything. In summarizing the unique features of Union Mills, Fred writes: "These three items are the source of all history--original physical remains, such as buildings and equipment; documentary sources, such as letters and diaries; and tradition and folklore, which fills in many unknown gaps. It is extremely rare to find all three of these types of historic sources in one specific area." At another point, he adds "the important aspect of historic preservation is that what is preserved should be genuine." Union Mills is just that: genuine.
The idea of turning the homestead into a museum was not arrived at all at once and was fraught with one complication after another. But the very process of five generations living in the same home over a period of 160 years, never moving, and seemingly never throwing anything away meant that, in Fred's words, "Union Mills became a museum of American family life informally and unconsciously." Reflecting on the process by which the homestead became a museum, Fred wrote:
In deciding how to organize the house to accommodate visitors, decisions had to be made about what to put on exhibit and how to organize it. Should rooms be furnished by period; should visitors be allowed to walk through rooms, or just look in; should items be brought in which were not original to the house? In the end, the decision was to do very little to the house. In so far as possible, leave furniture and the objects of everyday living just where the five generations of Shrivers who occupied the house had left them. This philosophy gave the homestead its distinctive and genuine "lived in" feeling. Beyond the house, the mill housed what was called the Mill Museum, with displays of antique farming equipment and Civil War relics, and a small selection of gifts. As a nod to the past, Fred installed a small three foot water wheel behind the mill. None of the other buildings were open to the public.
The timing for opening a new history museum (just before the Civil War centennial years) and location (just south of Gettysburg) were ideal, and more visitors indeed came, saw, and enjoyed. And they reacted: "My grandmother used to have one of those," "I wish my dad had never thrown this away," and "do you really mean that all of this belonged to one family?" But finding sufficient financial resources to simply maintain the property was a continual problem. By 1963 it became clear that the kind of work required to arrest the ravages of time was beyond the means of the three brothers, and they began laying plans for the Homestead Foundation, under which umbrella they could appeal for private and government historic preservation funding.
The three Klein brothers met at Union Mills on October 11, 1964, and signed the papers which established the Foundation. The following summer, the Foundation began a membership and fund raising drive. The first regular members meeting was held July 20, 1965 with 14 members present, and by the end of the year, the Foundation had 39 members. The most pressing need was for a replacement for the 80-year-old roof on the house, and that was accomplished the next year.
In the next decade, the Foundation took over successively more responsibility for the homestead. In 1965 the Klein brothers donated land for a Silver Run-Union Mills Lions Club park across Little Pipe Creek from the homestead, and in 1970, additional land for a Carroll County park behind the tannery. By 1975, through donation and sale, they arranged for the house and mill to be transferred to Carroll County, which in turn leases the property to the Foundation, and in similar fashion turned over ownership of the contents of the house to the Foundation. In its 34 years of existence, the Foundation has had nine presidents and a large and rotating Board of Directors, and now boasts a membership of well over 300. Mrs. James M. Shriver, Jr. (Esther), the Executive Director since 1980, has provided consistent oversight of the day-to-day operations of the homestead.
With the homestead in County hands, the Foundation became eligible for federal, state, and local restoration funding, and has benefited greatly, beginning with a grant from the Maryland Historic Trust in 1970. The transforming grant to the Foundation occurred in early 1973, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $100,000 toward the stabilization and restoration of the house and mill. Ten years later in May, 1983, and with additional grants from the State of Maryland, Carroll County, and gifts from the membership, the mill had been restored to working order, its machinery painstakingly recreated by British engineer-turned-millwright Derek Ogden. Formal dedication occurred on April 29, 1984. The restored grist mill dramatically increased historic interest in the site, and the number of visitors at once tripled, and doubled again from then to 1996 when nearly 7,000 people toured the house or mill. The mill restoration has won a number of awards, including "Best Restoration Project" from the American Association for State and Local History, and recognition from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The house and mill have not been the only structures restored. In 1986 the Foundation re-opened the miller's house, built in the 1830s, as a visitor center and gift shop, and the tannery underwent renovation to serve as both storage space and meeting hall. After being destroyed in a tragic arson fire on October 25, 1990, the tannery was completely re-built following traditional construction techniques, including a replica of the original sundial originally painted on the tannery wall in the 1860s. The bark shed near the tannery has become a demonstration site for nineteenth century crafts. The gardens and grounds, too, have been restored to reflect the life of an earlier era.
In January 1995, Esther L. Shriver, the Foundation's Executive Director, contacted Maryland Delegate Richard Dixon, later State Treasurer, to request a grant for major capital improvements for the homestead. Dixon sponsored legislation that provided a $100,000 grant from Maryland Public Work for significant restoration of the homestead's original buildings and grounds in time for the bicentennial. This grant signifies the importance of the homestead to the entire state of Maryland.
To showcase the homestead, the Foundation holds a number of annual events. In 1966, the Foundation held a pre-Christmas sherry party, an event which has evolved into an Annual Poinsettia and Greens Open House. The May Flower and Plant Market which traditionally signals the opening of the summer season began in 1970, and the first annual Corn Roast (not counting the 1953 millrace re-opening) was held in August 1973. In 1997, a number of added special events are planned for the bicentennial celebration. These events not only help to raise always-needed funds for the Foundation, but draw new audiences to learn of the history represented by the homestead.
History was indeed the motivation in establishing the Shriver homestead at Union Mills as a museum, and creating the Foundation to preserve it into the future. The 1964 Articles of Incorporation of the Foundation emphasize its historical objectives, to not only preserve the buildings and their contents, and to collect and organize associated documents and records, but also to present these to the public. Much of the Foundation's effort has gone to preserving, cataloging, and publicizing the homestead's collections. These documents, artifacts, and photographs along with the collection of Shriver papers in the Maryland Historical Society form one of the most complete windows into eighteenth and nineteenth century United States social and business history derived from a single extended family.
The interpretive tours of the house and mill have become part of the school curriculum for many students in the area at all levels, from elementary through university. As part of the restoration of the miller's house, there was an archaeological dig which unearthed a number of clues regarding the construction of the house itself, and its occupants. In 1993, the Foundation established a research fund in honor of the Klein brothers to encourage scholarship based on the homestead collections, and members of the Foundation have used these resources themselves in preparing talks and papers about life in and around the homestead.
The nineteenth century Shrivers kept records in the form of diaries, ledgers, correspondence, and of course the objects of everyday living. Since the birth of the foundation, records are in the form of minutes, budgets, and since 1975, a Foundation newsletter. The newsletter reflects the goals of the Foundation, combining news about events, updates on current restoration projects, and excerpts from the documentary and photographic collections of the homestead. The newsletter provides a glimpse into the homestead's past, and is the record of its present.
The Shriver homestead at Union Mills has seen many eras since 1797: birth, growth, maturity, decline, and near death. Since 1957 it has been reborn as a window into the past--rural America of the early nineteenth century. Through the efforts of hundreds of donors and volunteers, the decay has been arrested and even reversed. The Union Mills Homestead Foundation has achieved what could not otherwise have been done: to provide a secure future for the homestead. But more to the point, the Foundation is in large measure the extended Shriver family. What started as the collaboration between two brothers in 1797, was divided between two brothers in 1853, and was re-united by three brothers in 1954, is now administered by and for the growing union of Foundation members, both Shriver descendants and others, who want to preserve the genuine history that Union Mills represents.
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Page added to the Union Mills Homestead web site
April 9, 2002. Page last updated 04/09/02