Bigger-than-ever museum train garden opens Dec. 1
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 17:51

A past version of the train garden at the Dundalk-Patapsco Historical Society Museum.  photo by Roland Dorsey

Historical Society holiday display adds features

by John G. Bailey

The annual holiday train garden at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society Museum is a work in progress.
    Last year 8,000 people attended, and this year the display will cover 400 square feet. But it didn’t start as popular or as large as this 13 years ago.
    According to train garden chairman Michael Andy, the genesis of the  railroad display began with a desire to attract more visitors to the museum with a Christmas exhibit. The train idea soon followed.
    “I had no previous background with model railroading. I started from scratch,” Andy confesses. The train garden has grown with his experience. Two years ago, Steve Ellis and Allan Northington joined him in constructing the ever-evolving expanse of track, scenery and architecture.
    The train garden has grown twelvefold in terms of square footage since its debut. With each annual exhibit, Andy has had to juggle finite resources and space limitations to increase its size. “The museum is quite small. It’s a challenge to keep the attraction new each year,” Andy explains.
    Money is also a factor. The Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Society train garden is the only one in the area free to the public. Yet, while this year’s exhibit will cost $2,000, the train garden is funded solely by visitor donations to the museum. “Any donation is greatly appreciated,” he said.  
     Andy keeps children in the forefront of his design when planning the annual layout. Making the train garden as intimate and up-close as possible for families is a primary objective.
    “We experimented one year with having one section of the exhibit more open to the public than was usually the case. That didn’t work out; you can’t keep kids from touching,” Andy recalls.
    Harry Young, longtime museum docent, compared the train garden to others in the area. “We’re kid-friendly; that’s a strong part of our appeal. We’re one of the few open during the day, so we get a jump in visitors during the afternoon with mothers with their children stopping by after school.”
    A popular feature of the train garden is a scavenger hunt, with SpongeBob Squarepants figures hidden throughout the set-up. The contest serves a dual purpose. “In trying to find all of them, children have fun while seeing details of the exhibit that they might miss otherwise,” explains Andy.
    Other perennial favorites include a carnival and a zoo. “We’re also known for our animation,” Young adds. Nearly 100 animated figures will heighten this year’s display.
    New features are added each year. The 2012 display will introduce a Battle of North Point commemoration — a bit of local flair to make it more relevant to viewers. Other highlights will include six trains and two trolley lines.
    The train garden is always popular. Jean Walker, president of Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society, remembers watching a man with his grandson at last year’s train extravaganza. “The boy just didn’t want to go home. They were here for an hour.”
    The train garden at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society Museum opens Saturday, Dec. 1 and runs through Sunday, Jan. 6, except Christmas Day. Hours are noon to 8 p.m. daily, except Monday,  Dec. 24, when the museum closes at 5 p.m. Visit or call 410-284-2331 for additional information. The event is free.