Baltimore City’s ca. 1933 Enoch Pratt Free Library Central Library is the flagship location of one of the oldest public library systems in the United States, and through the work of many skills hands during an extraordinary renovation and modernization project, the Library shines bright as a beacon of community, knowledge, and betterment. For their craft and commitment, Preservation Maryland has awarded the 2020 Best of Maryland Preservation Artisan Award to EverGreene Architectural Arts and F.C. Vogt Company.
Under the direction of the Maryland Department of General Services, one of Annapolis’s historic post offices just underwent a world-class comprehensive adaptive reuse program to restore the deteriorated Georgian Revival architecture and to convert its interior space into new state government offices for the governor’s office of community initiatives and the governor’s legal office. This Best of Maryland Stewardship Award goes to the Maryland Department of General Services for envisioning and financing this over iconic $15 million project on Annapolis’ Church Circle.
Nicholas Redding Executive Director of Preservation Maryland (left) with James R. Castle, Best of Maryland "Harrison Volunteer Award" winner, 2020.
Best of Maryland Awards: James Castle of the Brunswick Heritage Museums Honored With Harrison Volunteer Award
09/14/2020 By Preservation Maryland
A native of Brunswick, Maryland in Frederick County, James Castle is a model citizen, dedicated volunteers, skilled historian, and stalwart preservationist…sometimes known as Brakeman Jim, while giving free tours to heritage tourists or local senior citizens. In 2015, James Castle became President of the Brunswick Potomac Foundation almost 20 years from the day he first started to volunteer for the organization. He has held the position ever since. In his tenure, Castle has led a note-worthy fundraising effort, supported the creation of a protective conservation district and the relocation of the historic WB Railroad Tower, and reinvigorated the organization’s online presence during Covid-19. Preservation Maryland is pleased to recognize Jim Castle with this year’s Preservation Maryland Best of Maryland Harrison Volunteer Award.
LEARN MORE ABOUT JIM CASTLE AND HIS PASSION FOR BRUNSWICK
Nomination of James R. Castle by Monica Castle.
Volunteering has been a passion of James Castle since childhood.
At the age of 14, he coached Little League Baseball and later became the President of the Brunswick Railroaders Little League. After graduating from Brunswick High School in 1995, James opened a store in downtown Brunswick, Maryland, and became involved in the town government as a volunteer.
He volunteered for special events including the oldest Veterans Day Parade in Maryland. He joined the Economic Development Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Recreation Commission. He joined the Board of C.A.S.S. which oversaw healthcare access to low-income Brunswick area school children. Castle was also on the Board of an after school program that oﬀered after school recreation for low-income Brunswick Elementary School-aged children.
The one volunteer position he enjoyed the most was that of the Brunswick Potomac Foundation, the owners and operators of the Brunswick Museum. Castle was ﬁrst placed on the Board at age twenty and served until 2000 when he was elected to the Brunswick City Council. Although no longer a Board Member he continued to volunteer at the Museum in the Museum Store and devoted his time, when most would be in college, to learning about the history of Brunswick. Castle purposely read every book there was on Brunswick’s history and while informative, they lacked detail. Castle began a search for the details by seeking out elders within the community, befriending them, and having long talks with them.
Brunswick, Maryland’s baseball team, 1892. Photo from Brunswick Heritage Museum.
Railroad workers in Brunswick, Maryland, 1920. Photo from Brunswick Heritage Museum.
At this time, Castle began saving historical Brunswick artifacts from destruction. At a time when many elderly Brunswick residents were passing, many historical artifacts from Brunswick’s past was being thrown out and destroyed. Castle took it upon himself to save as much of these items as possible, creating his own personal collection of thousands of historic Brunswick items. Once he noticed wonderful old garage related items being tossed into a dumpster from a building on Main Street that was being gutted. When Castle asked about the items the worker said the owner told him not to stop for anyone wanting to save “any of this old crap”. Later when the workmen were gone, Castle’s father held him by the ankles in order for James to salvage one of a kind Brunswick memorabilia from destruction.
What did James do with that big Brunswick collection? After pondering opening his own public display, he decided to author a book series called “History in Our Attics: Photos and Documents of Brunswick, MD.” The ﬁrst volume was published in October of 2014 and sold over 700 copies locally. Volume II was printed in October of 2015 and Volume III was published in October 2018. A short story, A Christmas Trip to Brunswick was published in October of 2016. That book told the story of a Knoxville family that travels to Brunswick during the Christmas season of 1955.
View of Brunswick, Maryland, November 2019.
View of Brunswick, Maryland.
Known as a leading resource for Brunswick history, Castle has provided much research to the City of Brunswick, historical contractors, committees, commissions, and the local newspaper, the Brunswick Citizen, all at no cost. As a founding member of Brunswick Main Street, he oﬀers historical research to that organization at no charge and has lead numerous historical walking tours, at no cost, of the Brunswick main street area. Castle happily provides research on Brunswick homes and genealogy to residents of Brunswick at no charge.
In 2015, the Board of Directors asked if Castle would consider the volunteer position of President of the Brunswick Potomac Foundation almost 20 years from the day he was ﬁrst a volunteer for the organization. He has held the position ever since. Castle assisted the struggling organization gain a stronger ﬁnancial footing and his knowledge of Brunswick history has aided in improving the museum’s interpretation of Brunswick’s History.
James leads tours of downtown dressed as “Brakeman Jim”, provides an interpretation to paranormal investigations throughout the City, and delivers presentations to Brunswick’s Senior Citizens, never earning one cent for himself, only wanting to preserve the history of his hometown.
James Castle was awarded the Tourism Council of Frederick County’s Ambassador of the Year in 2015. In 2016, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution presented Castle with a Historic Preservation Recognition Award.
This year, the Brunswick Heritage Museum began a capital campaign to restore its home, The Old Red Mens Hall in Brunswick. Castle led the campaign with a goal of raising $25,000. Many in the community said it could not be done. In the 2000s, it took the Museum seven years to raise $40,000 during its last capital campaign. To date, over $32,000 has been raised for the project in only a matter of months. During the recent pandemic, James produced an outreach method of Facebook videos called Brunswick History 101. These videos continued the Museum’s outreach during the Museum’s closure and assisted in raising thousands of dollars in needed operating funds.
In closing, I wish to nominate the man I see working at his desk, late at night, for countless hours, working tirelessly to preserve the history of his hometown of Brunswick, MD. I hope you give due consideration for an award to James R. Castle.