Wednesday, June 27, 2007

East County residents hop on board for a trip through history

B&O Railroad Station, Silver Spring firehouse open doors for Heritage Days

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Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Five-year-old Daniel Johnson of Kensington takes a close look at a model train set at the B&O Railroad Station during a visit Saturday to the historic site in south Silver Spring as part of the 10th annual Heritage Days celebration.
Historians at Silver Spring sites tried to draw the public’s attention back to the days before downtown revitalization during the weekend celebration of Montgomery County’s 10th annual Heritage Days.

The Silver Spring Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station and original Silver Spring Armory and Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 1 opened to visitors on Saturday and Sunday for two days of family fun and learning.

At the railroad station, Jerry McCoy, president of the Silver Spring Historical Society, displayed an array of historical items from around Silver Spring. The display included a photo exhibit by former station agent operator Robert Davis, a cornerstone of a building erected in the 1940s and the door of the women’s restroom from the original Tastee Diner.

‘‘We want to educate people on the vast, and widely unknown, history of Silver Spring,” McCoy said. ‘‘I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t like trains, so we can use the station to appeal to kids, while educating both them and their parents.”

The B&O Railroad Station site, which is open for visits every Saturday according to Station Manager Marilyn Slatick, was also filled with train-oriented activities. Attractions included a model train set brought by the Northern Virginia Railroad Club and a train simulator for the computer designed by a volunteer.

‘‘My favorite is Thomas the Tank Engine,” said Rhys Greville, 4, of Silver Spring, pointing at a miniature train rolling around the model tracks.

At the nearby historic Armory and Fire Department No. 1, visitors could wander through the building, which was used by Montgomery County since 1914. The visitors looked at photos and artifacts from firefighters while sampling Mama Lucia’s pizza and listening to the acoustic blues trio of the Archie Edwards Heritage Foundation.

Matt Fleischer, chief executive officer and president of Hook & Ladder Brewery, was greeting visitors. He and Jeremy Gruber, a former firefighter at Company No. 1, are finalizing plans to turn the historic site into a restaurant and brewpub. They are hoping for a spring 2008 opening.

Gruber and Fleischer aim to keep the history of the site in the conversion from unused firehouse to bustling restaurant.

‘‘We’re trying to keep as much of the historical aspects as possible,” Fleischer said. ‘‘We’re going to have the walls covered with artifacts, photos and stories from firefighters that worked there.”

Organizers and visitors on Saturday were worried that Silver Spring’s history could be lost without preservation efforts.

‘‘There’s a great history here,” said Silver Spring resident Marcia Greville, who added that she brought Rhys to the event because he enjoys trains. ‘‘It’s sad that a lot of people are missing out on the history and how the area developed.”

‘‘People don’t know the history here,” said Slatick, who is also a member of Montgomery Preservation Inc and the Secretary of the Silver Spring Historical Society. ‘‘People don’t know that this used to be a working train station and that Harry Truman used to routinely come to this very station.”

McCoy said the recent renovation of downtown Silver Spring complicated preservation efforts.

‘‘The only reason a lot of these historic buildings were kept around was because Silver Spring was in such an economic downturn,” McCoy said. ‘‘Now we are trying to draw people south from the revitalization and hope the developers don’t expand to us.”

McCoy added the draw to the historic section of Silver Spring would be hurt by revitalization because the ‘‘edge” of the area is attractive.

‘‘There is nothing sexy about chain restaurants,” said McCoy, who hopes to one day build a Silver Spring museum in the area. ‘‘The more urban-tinged feel of this area is what some people look for. It’s a good way to draw some people down here.”

Many agreed that a compromise would be to replicate unions like that of the future Hook & Ladder brewpub and the historic Fire Station No. 1.

‘‘[Fleischer and Gruber] are showing that it is possible to mesh history with modern usage,” said Melissa Avery of Music on the Rise, the group who organized the event at historic Fire Department No. 1. ‘‘They won’t have to rip [the site] down, but they won’t have to put in a chain either.”

‘‘It would be an embarrassment to have a Subway or McDonald’s there,” McCoy said. ‘‘Instead we will have a restaurant and get to preserve the history.”