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817 Main St. . Laurel, MD 20707 . 301-725-7975

History of the Laurel Historical Society

Early Years
The 1980s-1996 – In Pursuit of a Museum
1996-Present:  The Laurel Museum and a Growing Society

Early Years.

The Laurel Historical Society was organized in 1976 as the Laurel Horizon Society.  Since then it has worked to preserve the cultural and historical heritage of greater Laurel.

Early projects included renovating and landscaping the B&O railroad station, placing the Avondale Mill, and the old Laurel High School (now the Edward Phelps Community Center) on the National Register of Historic Places, and developing the first walking tour of Old Town Laurel.  Preservation efforts have continued to the present.  The Society was instrumental in preserving the Fairall Foundry on First Street.

The Society’s May 1976 house tour began a tradition continues to this day. A slide presentation about Laurel’s history evolved into the video, "Laurel: Historic Crossroads."  Funded by a generous grant from the Citizens National Bank, (now PNC) the video won a national award from the American Association of Museums, and is available in the museum shop on DVD.

The 1980s-1996: In Pursuit of a Museum

From its founding the Society welcomed donations of material related to the history of Laurel. By the 1980s artifacts were accumulating with no place to store them. During this period the Society continued its efforts with oral histories, and preservation projects.

In 1989, the City of Laurel began exterior restoration of a mill workers’ house it owned just east of the former site of the Laurel Cotton Mill and adjacent to Riverfront Park.

On February 25, 1991, then-Mayor Joseph Robison and the Laurel City Council adopted a resolution authorizing the Laurel Historical Society to use the mill workers' house as the Laurel Museum.  As plans were developed, funds raised and construction begun, traveling exhibits presented throughout the community kept citizens informed about the Museum’s progress.

1996-Present:  The Laurel Museum and a Growing Society

The Laurel Museum opened its doors to the public in May 1996.  Its first exhibit, from Mill House to Museum documented the history of the house and its renovation. Since then The Laurel Museum has mounted fifteen major exhibitions, including its most recent:  Stationed in Laurel: Our Civil War Story. It has greeted more than 20,000 visitors, including countless schoolchildren and numerous tour groups.  LHS membership grew from 31 paid members in the early nineties to the current membership of more than 300. The previously all-volunteer staff now includes a paid full-time Executive Director and part-time assistant.

Throughout its history the Society has worked to ensure that the Laurel Museum and the Society’s collection are maintained to the highest professional standards. An interpretive plan and collections policies and procedures ensure that the artifacts entrusted to our care are preserved, recorded and remain accessible through exhibits and to researchers.  In 2007 the LHS undertook a strategic planning process to guide its development for the next five years.

Recent Society highlights include development of an extensive new Walking Tour of Laurel, which complements a new marker program implemented by the City. The Society holds monthly programming tied into current exhibits and local history and culture and has increased its community partnerships. Presentations through a speaker's bureau brings local history to schools as well as community and senior groups. Children’s programs are reaching out into the community while the membership continues to grow. The Taste of Laurel brings together local family-based restaurants for the community to enjoy and support. Since 2001 the Society has held an annual gala that raises critical funds to support the Society’s operations and the Laurel Museum.

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