By Amelia Blades Steward
Learning the stories of the communities in which we live on the Eastern Shore enriches our lives. One local nonprofit, Rural Life Museum of Trappe, has renewed its commitment to sharing the history and culture of Trappe, Maryland, Inc. with local residents and visitors. On June 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the museum will open its doors for the first time since the pandemic and offer a glimpse into the fascinating people and heritage that makes the town of Trappe such a historically significant place.
“We want to tell people what a wonderful place Trappe is. Our newly rebooted Board of Directors has been working hard to raise the necessary funds to safely reopen our buildings, preserve our assets, and fulfill our mission of ‘Building Our Future by Preserving Our Past,’” comments Elizabeth Ferguson, current president of Rural Life Museum in Trappe.
The organization’s purpose focuses on collecting, preserving, interpreting, and displaying a broad array of historically significant items, pictures, and documents, including many used in rural homes, farms, and industry in the Trappe area, so that they can be shared with others. At the upcoming Friends and Visitors Day, Elizabeth hopes to engage participants in activities that highlight some of the unique aspects of Trappe, including agricultural and canning industries.
The organization was founded in 2006 under the leadership of resident Charles Adams, Jr. whose father dreamed of having a museum in Trappe. Initially, it operated under the umbrella of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation and leased an early 19th-century house (The Defender House c. 1815) on Backtown Road. That 2.2-acre property was later donated to the nonprofit in 2014, giving the museum a permanent home. All the buildings were moved to the property. In addition to the Defender House, these include a carriage house, a scale house, and a smokehouse – all moved from the Trappe area to the museum’s grounds and each telling a unique story about Trappe’s industry.
“We are so grateful to those who have helped make all of this possible, including the Groves family, in particular, Cynthia Groves Miles who was the driving force behind the family donating the property to us,” adds Elizabeth.
“We had a near-death experience with COVID, along with the death of several board members. Linda Adams, the daughter-in-law of Charles Adams, Jr., our founder, started posting on the museum’s Facebook page in 2021 which rekindled interest in the museum. We had a reboot meeting in September of 2022 resulting in a new, diverse, and energized board of directors.”
She credits several local organizations and individuals with helping support the museum’s rebirth, including the Town of Trappe, Habitat for Humanity, the Chesapeake Center, Willow Works, Talbot Historical Society, Talbot Tourism, Stories of the Chesapeake, and Mid-Shore Community Foundation. The museum has also applied for grants, including a grant from the Maryland Historical Trust for the Defender House, and a planning grant with the Maryland State Arts Council for public art on the property. With a new membership drive and revamped by-laws and website, the organization hopes the coming year will be fruitful.
The group has already come together with a presence at this year’s Little League Opening Day at Home Run Baker Park and held a plant sale in May. In June, in addition to its Friends and Visitors Day, the Rural Life Museum in Trappe will be represented at the Academy Art Museum’s Juneteenth Celebration on June 17 and the Trappe Carnival on June 22 through 24. The culmination of the year’s activities will be on November 4, when the museum will participate in the 156th Nace Hopkins Day.
Among the outstanding individuals to hail from Trappe is Nathaniel “Nace” Hopkins, a former slave who served in the Union Army and later helped start a school for African American children and a church. Trappe’s Emancipation Day celebration was held annually with a parade led by Nathaniel Hopkins. Now, Nace Hopkins Day is the longest continuous public Emancipation Day celebration on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and among the longest in the United States.
Frank “Home Run” Baker, who made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, is also from Trappe, as are two Maryland Governors – Daniel Martin (1829 – 1931) and Samuel Stevens, Jr. (1822 – 1826). John Dickinson, a member of the Continental Congress who opposed independence but joined the Army to fight for the cause and served on the commission to draw up the Constitution after the war, was also born in Trappe.
To engage youth in the town’s history, Elizabeth has developed a Scavenger Hunt, which is on the website, for children to do when coming to the museum’s Friends and Visitors’ Day. It touches on some of the town’s key historical elements and offers a Dairy Queen blizzard to those who finish it. Another upcoming museum project is to do an oral history of Trappe through interviews with some of Trappe’s senior citizens.
“When we lose one of these folks, we truly lose an encyclopedia. The museum is looking for volunteers who know the software “Audacity” to help capture these audio interviews,” Elizabeth adds.
“I often think many folks, especially those raised here, don’t understand how very special Trappe is. People care about and support each other. We are hoping that people who have Trappe memorabilia will think of us and our collection when deciding to downsize or move.”
At Friends and Visitors Day, in addition to the Scavenger Hunt and old-fashioned games, children and adults can take their turn at sealing tin cans – learning about an important part of Trappe’s canning industry years ago. There will also be music, a food vendor, historical displays, books from the Unicorn Bookshop, and museum-imprinted items for sale. Special acknowledgments to Nace Hopkins and Frank “Home Run” Baker may also be provided.
“We will also be presenting memorial plaques for Charles Adams, Jr., Donald Brown, and Elizabeth Slaughter who each played an important role in our founding,” adds Elizabeth.
The museum’s fundraising efforts are supporting buildings repairs, eventually providing handicapped accessibility and a bathroom, creating a gift shop and storage area, and having volunteers in costume to serve as docents when the museum is open.
Current members of the Rural Life Museum in Trappe include Elizabeth Ferguson, President; Leona Schmidt, Vice President; Jeff Saulsbury, Secretary; Mary Ann Windsor, Fund Raising Chairman; Stephanie Chester, Margie Kirby Cyr, Chris Eareckson, David Purnell, and Brian Schmidt. The Board is currently looking for a treasurer and volunteers to help with its many projects. For further information, call the museum at 443-477-3537 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a tour, call 410-476-4857. Donations may be sent to The Rural Life Museum of Trappe Maryland, Inc., 29241 Backtown Road, Trappe, Maryland 21673.