- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

The story of Laurel is told in all sorts of printed materials, from menus to real estate ads to a 19th-century resident directory. The Laurel Historical Society has gathered a wide collection of such artifacts for a new exhibit — “Buy it Here: Laurel Advertises.” The exhibit will be on display at the Laurel Museum until the end of the year.

“We had a lot of things that are advertising-related in our collection,” says Karen Lubieniecki, president of the Laurel Historical Society. “Advertising really tells the story of a community. Ads become the historical record of an organization.”

The location for the exhibit sets the tone for understanding the changes in Laurel over the years. The building that holds the museum was constructed for millworkers in 1840. The original house contained four apartments, each with an open-hearth basement kitchen. As the mills closed in the early part of the 20th century, the house became a two-family residence, then a rental house and then a warehouse before being abandoned in the 1970s. The city of Laurel purchased the property in 1985, and the renovated property opened in 1996 as the Laurel Museum.

Similar changes have taken place in the community. Laurel was founded as an industrial town with easy access to Baltimore and Washington.

Some of the ads in the exhibit reflect the factory culture. There are ads for the Laurel Steam Works and the Faultless Nightwear Co., which was looking for girls 16 and older to work in its Laurel factory in 1923. An 1894 town directory shows an ad for the Avondale Flour Mill.

“This was a manufacturing town,” Ms. Lubieniecki says. “As the town evolved, there was less of that and the start of other businesses here.”

A variety of businesses have advertised in Laurel since then. The exhibit groups the advertisements by theme. “Looking Good” has ads from Phelps and Shaffer Department Store, which opened in Laurel in 1894. The store lists some of its specialties in its ad: fancy groceries, olives and soaps, ribbons and notions.

By the 1950s, Laurel’s Town Dress Shop was advertising dresses “As Seen in Seventeen” for $8.95.

In the section “Take Care of Yourself” are ads from doctors, pharmacies and hospitals. The Keeley Institute of Maryland touted itself in one late-19th-century ad as “For the cure of Liquor, Opium, Morphine and Tobacco habits and Nervous Diseases.” The hospital later was renamed the Laurel Sanitarium.

In the “Fast Track to Fun” section, the ads revisit entertainment in town. There is a 1939 poster advertising a showing of “Gone With the Wind” as well as others for a 1960 rodeo and the film of the 1952 heavyweight boxing championship.

At “Take Me Out to Eat,” some of Laurel’s past and present restaurants are on display. There is a model of the departed favorite Little Tavern and 1940s place mats from the California Inn on Washington Boulevard.

A menu from Binder’s Midway Restaurant circa 1963 shows that diners could get a bowl of soup for 35 cents. A complete pork chop dinner was $1.85.

More food memories are found in “Home Cooking,” where an assortment of calendar giveaways from years — and markets — gone by are located.

For those who want to learn more about the history of Laurel, Ms. Lubieniecki recommends picking up a walking-tour brochure at the museum. The brochure highlights 49 spots of historical importance in a short walk around Laurel’s Main Street Historic District.

A few of the landmarks are still there. Others, such as the Laurel Cotton Mill and Dam, are just memories. The walking-tour brochure, though, will tell you what used to be where and why it was important.

The cotton mill on the west end of Main Street is long gone, and the town pool sits on the site. The Phelps and Shaffer Department Store, which opened in 1891 at the corner of Montgomery and Ninth streets, was turned into headquarters for the volunteer fire department and then the city hall and jail. The mill superintendents used to live in a mansion where St. Vincent Pallotti High School stands.

Location: The Laurel Museum is at 817 Main St. in Laurel

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 95 north. Take the Route 216-Laurel exit and turn right on Main Street.

Hours: Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. Closed in January.

Admission: Free

Parking: Street parking in front.

More information: 301/725-7975 or www.laurel museum.org.

Notes:

• The Laurel Museum, operated by the Laurel Historical Society, is a 19th-century millworkers apartment building. The current exhibit, “Buy It Here: Laurel Advertises,” uses advertising to show the evolution of Laurel from an industrial town to a bedroom community.

• The museum also is the starting point for a walking tour of the historic district.

• The museum features a research library, which is open by appointment.

• The next Kids’ Sunday at the museum will take place on May 4 and will feature activities for school-age children. Contact the museum to preregister.

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