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Carroll County Farm Museum aims to erect wormseed oil exhibit to highlight former remedy

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SYKESVILLE, Md. - Mark Duvall has completed a mission roughly a year in the making.

Last year, Carroll County Farm Museum Manager Dottie Freeman showed Duvall, the maintenance supervisor for the museum, a photo of three wormseed oil vats in Sykesville. The rusty, unused vats, measuring about 4 feet tall and another 4 feet in diameter, may not have meant much to most people, but to Duvall and Freeman, they were like treasure.

"Dottie laid this in front of me, and she was like, 'We need to go get these,'" Duvall said. "I never had actually seen a vat until I saw these."

The frenzy to retrieve the vats arose out of historical interest. Carroll County once, in the words of a Sun Magazine article, had a near "monopoly" on wormseed oil. Production of the oil first started in Carroll around 1840, and the county would eventually have the largest output of the oil in the world, largely due to favourable soil and climatic conditions in the area.

Wormseed oil was used for medicinal purposes — to destroy internal worms in humans and animals alike. But things changed in the 1960s when synthetic drugs and other substitutes made the oil irrelevant.

In the early 1960s, there were only two wormseed oil distilleries left in the county, and both were soon out of business.

The Farm Museum hopes to erect an exhibit using two vats, which weigh about two tons and will sit in the parking lot at the museum until then. To start an exhibit may take funding from the museum's endowment, sponsors or donations, said Freeman.

One of the vats was moved onto the property of Sykesville residents Pat Groves and her husband, Bill. The workers removing the vats, who included staff of different county departments using large machinery, had to enter the couple's property to get to the vats, which had been located along a stream near their home on Gina Court.

The Groves had a vat placed in their backyard for allowing the workers to enter their property.

"I just thought it was neat," Pat Groves said of why she wanted one of the vats on her property. "It's something nice to have around, and they moved it out for me so I can look at it outside my door."

Nothing is set in stone for the museum display for the other two vats, those with the Farm Museum stressed. However, ideas so far include erecting a concrete structure underneath the vat near a stream on the museum's grounds and building a structure on top of the vats.

The museum currently has a display for wormseed oil at one of the buildings on its property, which features three hatchet-like "wormseed cutters," a drum in which wormseed oil was placed, jars of wormseeds and the oil they produced and other pieces.

Those with the Farm Museum hope that ideas for how the exhibit will be constructed will be determined at a public meeting in March that John Sies, president of the Farm Museum board of governors, aims to hold. A definitive date has not been set for the meeting, but Sies, 70, suggested that people who are interested in attending call him at 443-244-0731.

One resident who is already interested in the exhibit is Edwin Magin, the grandson of George Magin, who owned one of the last two wormseed oil distilleries in the county.

Magin, 73, said he remembered as a teenager climbing into the vats and stomping down on the wormseed plants in order to increase space.

"When you would get a group around it was like you were dancing and just stomping down," he said.

Magin, who lives in Westminster, said he was glad the Farm Museum had gone through so much trouble to get the vats onto its grounds. He said he hopes to see a good display at the museum that will educate those who do not know the extensive history of the oil in the county.

"I am real pleased they are doing it," Magin said.


Information from: Carroll County Times of Westminster, Md.,

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