Way back in the days of yore or in 1851, the good folks downtown became tired of supporting the City’s country bumpkins. So, they literally drew a box around themselves and left the plowboys to fend for themselves. Today, Baltimore County is so much more than a bunch of peasant farmers eking out a living tilling the soil. While the City has the lion’s share of attractions in Maryland, the County is also very much “visit” worthy. Here we explore three unusual museums on the West side of Baltimore County.
This area is known as the “wicked west side.” Traffic reporters gave it this name because people commuting to Washington, D.C. are overly jumpy from too much java and tend to make a mess of the morning commute. Please don’t let that deter you from checking these three cool places out. Nothing opens before rush hour starts to wind down anyway.
Today’s three unusual and hidden gems to check out are:
- National Electronics Museum & Radio Station K3NEW
- The Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum
- Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball
The National Electronics Museum
This gem is technically in Anne Arundel County, but you would never know it. The unusual museum is heavy on military communications that are all called something with a letter X and a number 3. Most of the exhibits are probably only truly understandable by engineers in the defense industry. So, for the nerds, this is an awesome place. For the rest of us, well, it is also a totally awesome place and here is why.
It is a fascinating place to contemplate just how far we have come in our quest to conquer wireless communication. These clunky and chunky metal machines were at one time the state of the art in military communications. This is the beginning of Wi-Fi. It is like watching the first season of MacGyver and giggling at the computers that took up a whole room. This is old school at its finest!
If you take out your phone, you will be holding more technology in your hand than everything in the museum combined. A very big contemplation don’t you think? To a large extent, today’s electronics are about using computer code to make things happen. This museum showcases how we learned to transform sound and light waves into electronic signals, push them through the air, grab them on the other side of the world, and put them back into sound, data, and pictures. More importantly, this is a place to see the very beginnings of that little rectangular thing you are now holding in your hand.
The Exhibit Space
The route through the museum starts with an explanation of how electricity works and how sound travels. From there, visitors connect with how these fundamentals are applied in the real world. This includes all the nifty public spin-off applications like GPS, cell tower communications, civilian radar, and the like. It ends with modern day applications like satellite and sonar advancements. This is unusual museum a great place to while away an afternoon. It also answers that burning question of what to do now that my husband’s flight has a 2-hour delay and it’s not worth it to drive home (see Pro Tip below).
The museum is also the home for K3NEW an amateur radio club. For $15 a year, joining the club is an excellent way to get your kids off Tick Tok or Fortnite and into some old school fun. In the zombie apocalypse the internet will be worthless but not so radio communications. They also offer classes for licensing.
Pro Tip: If you are at BWI airport and need to kill some time, the museum is fun way to make that time more enjoyable. Hop the free shuttle serving the BWI Airport Marriott. The museum is right next door. Grab a sandwich or snack at the hotel on your ride back as a thank you for the ride. While you are there learn about Marriott’s rewards program for future deals.
Location: 1745 W. Nursery Road, Linthicum, MD 21090 | Map: Click Here | Phone: 410-765-3803 | Website: NationalElectronicsMuseum.org Email: Use website form | Hours: Monday – Friday 9am to 4pm; Saturday 10am to 2pm | Cost: $7 per adult; $5 for seniors and students; Under 5 free
Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum
Next up on our unusual museum list is the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum located in Catonsville. This museum is a little treasure in the middle of urban suburbia for a couple reasons. First, it is the actual homestead and farm of Benjamin Banneker himself. In case you do not know, Banneker was so much more than just a free black man from back in the day who liked math. He was a true genius. If he were alive today, he would be palling around with the members of the genius club like Sau Lan Wu, a particle physicist famous for discovering the gluon and her work on the Higgs boson and Albert Einstein of E=MC2 fame.
Banneker was so smart that he taught himself advanced mathematics and astronomy. While gazing at the stars, he worked out the patterns related to planetary movement and was also the only person to accurately depict the 1789 solar eclipse. Thomas Jefferson was so impressed with his abilities that he appointed Banneker to lead the surveying team mapping out our nation’s capital.
In his free time, Banneker used is mathematical talents to write and publish annual almanacs for Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia. Think about that for a minute. Before computers and calculators, Banneker manually calculated all the tidal, sunrise/sunset, astronomical, and a whole host of other complicated math charts by himself in his “spare time.” It blows the mind! He was also great friends with George Ellicott of Ellicott City fame and the two of them could be found at each other’s homes almost daily discussing astronomy or some math principle or another.
The museum is also host to a number of fun learning events. This weekend, visitors will be treated to “Cooking in the Cabin.” A free demonstration on just how folks without stoves managed not to starve. For this an other upcoming events click here.
Trail to Ellicott City
The 142-acre park also has picnic facilities and six miles of walking trails. Perhaps the best path is the #9 Trolley Trail. This path takes you on a 1.5-mile walk to Ellicott City via a canyon. The park is also a great place for birding. The park’s 60-some species include the Dark-Eyed Junko, the Indigo Bunting, and the Eastern Towhee. Don’t confuse that Towhee with the two species of Oriole you also might find. Take your binoculars. You are sure to find one or two from their downloadable list. If you want to know what to do in Ellicott City, this is a great place to learn some history, get your 10,000 steps in, and grab lunch in a historic town. Bonus: You won’t have to move your car.
Location: 300 Oella Avenue, Catonsville, MD 21228 | Map: Click Hear | Phone: 410-887-1081 | Website: FriendsOfBenjaminBanneker.com | Email: BannekerMuseum@BaltimoreCountyMD.gov | Museum Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10am – 4pm; Park: Daily Sunrise to Sunset Cost: Free
Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball
Our final shout out goes to this unusual museum at the top of Baltimore County’s west side in Owings Mills. The Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball is tucked in a corner behind the elevators and just outside of the Owings Mills branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. Over four floors of exhibits and memorabilia, the museum tells the history of Negro Leagues Baseball in the U.S. Numerous display cases hold an impressive amount of memorabilia.
This is a must visit if you are a fan of baseball, sports history, or African American history. It is also a great place to while away the time while you wait for your kid to finish up the report you have been bugging her about all month and is now due tomorrow. Or drop by any time.
Hubert Simmons was a baseball phenom in his day. He could play all nine positions but is most famous as a curveball pitcher with a nasty knuckleball. Simmons got his start on the Raleigh Tigers in North Carolina. He retired in 1950 after the final season of the Baltimore Elite Giants. Outside of baseball, Simmons served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was one of the brave and tenacious soldiers who stormed the beach in Normandy on D-Day. After baseball, he became a Baltimore County Public Schools teacher. More importantly, he passed his love for and experience playing baseball to the players he coached. Simmons has a great life story and if you want to know more about it, I highly recommend a visit.
Location: 10302 Grand Central Avenue, Owings Mills, MD 21117 | Map: Click Here | Phone: 410-597-9797 | Website: www.smnlbinc.org | Hours: Follows BCPL Branch Hours | Cost: Free
There you have it! Three unusual museums on Baltimore County’s west side that I bet you did not even know where there. When you think of “museum,” don’t just think of stuffy and boring. You may be surprised at what you might find in one of the many unusual museums around town.