LEONARDTOWN, Md. (June 7, 2016)—The Commissioners of Leonardtown applied for and received a $125,468 grant from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to build a park in the town. A fireman's museum building is also planned for the 1.65 acre site, which is the former location of the annual firemen's carnival—the Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department's (LVFD) major fundraising event for many years. The museum will use approximately 2/3 of the site and the rest of the property will be used for the park, with green space suitable for picnic tables for families to use while visiting the museum.
This park project will be partially funded, built by, staffed and
maintained by the LVFD.
In 2006, the LVFD discontinued the annual carnival and this property has languished as a storage area for old carnival equipment and parking for events at the fire department's social hall since that time. The buildings on this site are vacant and in poor condition, except for the historic carousel. This carousel, a vintage Allen Herschell, is over 100 years old. It was purchased in 1942 and served as the centerpiece of the fireman's carnival for 64 years. This 4,200 square foot proposed museum building would preserve the carousel and an antique fire engine in perpetuity and provide a suitable location to display the historic artifacts and explain the history and development of rural fire service in Leonardtown, St. Mary's County, and the surrounding counties.
The LVFD has artifacts and documents dating back to 1830 that tell the story of the struggles Leonardtown and the surrounding areas faced in dealing with uncontrolled fire and lack of an organized fire department. Back then, the community had to rely on fire departments from Washington, DC and Hyattsville, to respond in times of need, which put the entire community at risk. Through the dedication and commitment of community volunteers, the local Leonardtown residents acquired their first crude firefighting tools, such as leather buckets, to combat these threats, then to purchase their first hand drawn firefighting equipment, which was delivered on a steamboat to the Town Wharf. From there the townspeople built their first motorized fire engine and over time developed a well-trained, well equipped volunteer fire company.
Starting in 1928, after many failed efforts, the present Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department organized and has been a leader in providing fire protection to Southern Maryland. The funding to support the LVFD and to assist other communities in developing their own local fire departments has, for many years, come from operating carnivals on the Town Green and later by operating a traveling carnival. The historic carousel was always the showpiece of these carnivals.
Town officials say the museum will be unique, since there are no others like it in the Southern Maryland area and few in Maryland. It would also be the only one to display an operating carousel and connect its use to the creation and support of the fire department's success. It is one of only seven carousels in Maryland registered with the National Carousel Association and the only one with a 60 year history in the Southern Maryland region.
The town commissioners say the park and museum are part of their ongoing efforts to promote the downtown business district and revitalize areas of the historic town. The project is located within Leonardtown's Target Investment Zone and Arts and Entertainment district. Leonardtown is located in a Priority Funding Area and was named a Maryland Priority Place in 2005 and a designated Sustainable Community in 2012.