Lee's Merchant Mill

Review

of an Exhibition

by James Keffer

Published on May 31, 2015

  • Description:

    The Historic Jerusalem Mill Village is a National Register listed 18th and 19th century preserved community within Gunpowder Falls State Park. It contains several buildings, some restored originals and some reproductions. Multiple sites feature living history interpreters at select times. The museum is operated by a “Friends of” group of volunteers.

    Lee’s Merchant Mill serves as the visitor center for the museum. The mill is a reproduction of the original building built in 1772, using some parts of the original structure. It was designed for adaptive reuse to house the museum and the headquarters of the state park.

    The exhibition endeavors to tell the story of how the milling process worked and the specific history of this mill. The first part that caught my eye was the millstone set up on the floor, much as it would have been when the mill was in use. I enjoyed the authenticity of this part of the display. However, it would have been fun to see a live-action demonstration of a stone grinding some grain, even in a scaled-down form.

    I was next drawn to a corn-shelling machine. It had a sign soliciting donations of coins to allow visitors to try out the machine. A staff member showed me its operation and described the excitement of students at both the noise and the process of the kernels being removed from the cob. Unfortunately there were no children present during my visit. I think more interactive items like this would be a great addition to the exhibition.

    In the center of the room there was a cutaway model of the mill building showing how the wheels and stones fit together in the building. This was helpful as most of that was not intact in the actual building. The model was surrounded by a series of text panels explaining the complete process of farming, milling, and selling wheat. These were quite long in describing the specifics and did not engage me.

    A sign beckoned me to go downstairs to see the water wheel exhibit. I stood on a small landing that overlooked the space in the building that once housed the water wheels. The cool dampness of the room gave me some feeling that there should have been water present. Disappointingly the walls of the room had been sealed off from the outside and there were no wheels present, only sketches on the walls. The drawings did at least show the location and size of the wheels, but even mockups of the full wheels would have been much more exciting to see.

    This exhibition did not show much innovation but did manage to deliver its message with a small amount of charm. There is potential for more interesting exhibits here, but the museum is likely constrained by a shoestring budget and lack of manpower. I do look forward to visiting again to see the demonstrations in the blacksmith shop, miller’s house/gun factory, and general store exhibitions.

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