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The Sandy Spring Museum

by Clare Coppa

It’s harvest time, and an abundance of pumpkins signals the approach of winter. Farmers gather fall crops on lands once owned by pioneers like the Quakers who founded Sandy Spring, a thriving community in central Maryland.

Once home to the Piscataway Conoy tribe, the region was charted by Captain John Smith in 1608 and occupied in the 1600s by innovative Quaker farmers. To showcase the area’s history, current residents of Sandy Spring, including ASTM member James K. Rice,built the Sandy Spring Museum.

The museum features permanent and changing displays, an art gallery, and special events. Early dollhouses, sleighs, diaries, embroidery, and photographs are among its 10,000 artifacts. A large collection of antique farm equipment occupies one wing.

The community of Sandy Spring got its name in the early 1700s when Quakers settled near the sandy banks of a spring. Intelligent communication, like the spring, ran through the grassy hamlet and families prospered. Regular Friends’ meetings spurred farmers associations and women’s groups that fostered technical and social progress. Historical experimentation with fertilization and refrigeration is linked to early residents. Farmsteads that employed hundreds of slaves dropped the practice even before Maryland abolished slavery in 1864. Serving the Underground Railroad were sturdy brick homes constructed by founding members of Sandy Spring in the mid-1700s that still house their descendants today.

According to Rice, over a million dollars was donated to erect the museum in 1997. “For the most part, we raised the million-plus for that from the community. It was a major effort of a lot of people,” said Rice, a resident since 1973. Housed in smaller sites since 1980, the new structure includes a library, an octagon-shaped meeting room, art gallery, and exhibit halls.

When Rice served as museum president in 1992, he formed a focus committee to plan outreach activities. “One key outgrowth of those activities was a garden club,” he said. “It was organized and chaired initially by my wife Mary and has been extraordinarily successful. Its many activities keep bringing new members into the museum.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Rice has a masters in chemical engineering from what is now Carnegie Mellon University. He is a consulting chemical engineer to electric utilities and specializes in power-plant water systems. A former director of ASTM and prior chairman of Committee D19 on Water, Rice became interested in water for steam-power generation through his father, Cyrus William Rice. “He was very active with a group that founded the International Water Conference in Pittsburgh, and a very good friend of all the people who founded D19,” he said. Both father and son are award-winning industry fellows. James was instrumental in the development of early ASTM ion-exchange and industrial waste-water standards, as well as detection and quantitation standards during his 52-year association with D19.

Along with ASTM, Rice is active on several Sandy Spring Museum committees and is a Museum Trustee. A recent project was the creation of The Sandy Spring Legacy, a pictorial account. Winner of a Maryland Heritage Award, the book was edited by Thomas Canby and Elie Rogers, and compiled by many residents.

“The museum has served as a focal point, and that’s what’s really turned out to be one of the best things,” Rice concluded. “It’s not just about saving artifacts, it’s become a really good place for young, old, and middle-aged people to come together and work on projects, and to meet and exchange ideas. It has a number of different activities and furnishes a very good focus for the community.”

Copyright 2000, ASTM

ASTM member Jim Rice turns a fireplace spit with a clock-jack belonging to settler Robert Brooke in 1650.