March 12, 2018
The Enchanted Forest at Clark’s Elioak Farm
If you’ve ever wanted to dive deeper into classic fairy tales, you may have enjoyed Maryland’s once famous attraction the Enchanted Forest. But what happens to all of the buildings and unique concrete structures of a 1950s amusement park when it closes? In this case, they found a second life as part of Clark’s Elioak Farm, thanks to the efforts of the petting farm’s owner, Martha Clark, as well as the many who volunteered. Stick around to learn about the history of this Maryland icon, the story of a roadside attraction being saved by the community around it, and what it takes to maintain a massive concrete shoe. This is better than a bag of magic beans, this is PreserveCast!
[Stephen Israel] If you’ve ever wanted to dive deeper into classic fairy tales, you may have enjoyed Maryland’s once famous attraction, The Enchanted Forest. But what happens to all of the buildings and unique concrete structures – many dating back to the 1950s – of an amusement park when it closes? In this case, they found a second life as part of Clark’s Elioak Farm, thanks to the efforts of the petting farm’s owner, Martha Clark, as well as the many who volunteered. Stick around to learn about the history of this Maryland icon, the story of a roadside attraction being saved by the community around it, and what it takes to maintain a massive concrete shoe. This is better than a bag of magic beans. This is PreserveCast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding and you’re listening to PreserveCast. Today we are joined in studio by Martha Clark. Martha operates a diversified farming operation in Howard County, Maryland. In addition to the petting farm, she and her daughter sell 100 percent grass-fed beef, pastured pork, and locally-grown vegetables. Martha began her career working for the Maryland Office for Children and Youth and the Maryland Commission for Women. In 2002 she started Clark’s Elioak Farm, the petting farm on Route 108 in Ellicott City. In 2004, she began the amazing experience of moving the attractions from Route 40 location of The Enchanted Forest to her farm five minutes away. Since her business bridges both agriculture and tourism, Martha is active in each industry on both the local and state levels. Martha, it’s a pleasure to have you here today to join us here on PreserveCast.
[Martha Clark] Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here.
[NR] So not everyone decides to get into the petting farm business and saving roadside architecture, and fun roadside exhibits, and things like that. We’re going to get into all of that about what The Enchanted Forest is for those listening who aren’t familiar with it. What’s your story? How did you get to this point? How did you end up running this place?
[MC] Well, our family’s been in Howard County since 1797, and we’ve been farming in the county. I’m the sixth generation. My daughter is the seventh generation of Clarks farming in Howard County. And I was born and raised on the farm that we now use for the petting farm. And I, as you said, had a career working for state government on women’s and children’s issues. I raised my family. And then my brother, who was supposed to be farming the farm for his entire life, moved the whole farming operation – it was a dairy operation – from our 500-acre farm in Howard County down to Georgia. And so my dad was really retired from farming at that point, and so the farm was there for [laughter] someone to do something with and that someone turned out to be me.
So I came back to the farm in 2000. I had always thought that a petting farm would be a great idea. We’re in a wonderful location. We’re halfway between Baltimore and Washington. There’s three million people a half an hour drive from our farm. We thought it would be a great place to have an agritourism operation where we could invite people to our farm to visit with the animals, take hay rides, take pony rides, spend some time outside. No child left inside [laughter], isn’t that the thing that we want to do now? And just a nice place for people to come, and we love the farm. We love farming. We’re doing it for generations. We think it’s very important for people to be connected to where their food comes from and to animals. So that’s what we thought was a great thing to do. So we opened up the farm in 2002.
[NR] And for those who aren’t familiar with the area, and you described it sort of being halfway between Baltimore and Washington, I mean, Howard County has been quickly changing for a long time. [It] has changed quite a bit, starting as a pretty rural place fifty, sixty years ago, and then with the establishment of Columbia, and the roads through Howard County, it’s changed a lot. So yeah, I guess it’s important in a sense to sort of preserve what farming is, and give people who have no sense of that an opportunity to see it too, so it’s –
[MC] Right. Yeah, when I –
[NR] – almost like a public service.
[MC] Yeah, when I was born, there were 250 dairy farms in Howard County, and there are now two or three. Maryland, the state of Maryland, and Howard County too have strong farm preservation programs. And so there’s a lot of land in the county and in the state where the government has bought the development rights to help farmers take the development pressure off of farms, and let farmers do what they do best, which is grow food and fiber, and run their farms. It’s really important that farmers have a lot of opportunities, and a lot of different, diverse things that they could do with their farm. Farming is not just growing corn, and wheat, and soybeans. You know, there’s a whole lot more to it. There are a million different things that you can do on your farm, and we’re very strong proponents of diversifying your farming operation, and that’s what we’ve done.
[NR] Well, speaking of diversity of operation, so you start – and you have the grass-fed beef, and the pasture pork, and the local vegetables, and the petting farm, and those are all things that I think people, they think of when, “Okay, that’s a way to kind of diversify your ag operation.” But then there’s The Enchanted Forest, which is sort of a little different. Not most farms, even the most diversified farms, have this. For people in Maryland listening, they may be familiar with this, but what was The Enchanted Forest? Why don’t you describe what it was, and then we’ll get to your part in that story as well.
[MC] Right, The Enchanted Forest opened up in August of 1955. Disneyland opened up in Anaheim in California in July of ’55, and it’s been billed as the second-oldest storybook land in the country, and that’s what it was. After World War II, the Baby Boom started, and instead of what happens now where everything’s franchised, a lot of people around the country tried to figure out what businesses they could start to entertain this generation of Baby Boom children. And different people came up with this idea all around the country, but the Harrison family decided that a storybook land would be a great thing for this area in Maryland. So they found a piece of property in Howard County, very rural Howard County as we were talking about in 1955, and built a little storybook land around the nursery rhymes that children know and love.
So when you drove down route 40 in rural Howard County, you came across a big, white castle that beckoned you in, and you walked through the castle, and out the other side, and you found the old woman’s shoe, a 23-foot tall, 30,000-pound shoe with children hanging from it. You found Cinderella’s castle, Jack and Jill tumbling down the hill, the Three Bears’ brick house, and on, and on. All of the sort of life-sized characters that you would find in your nursery rhymes. And as I said, it opened up in 1955. It was successful from the moment it opened its doors. It entertained generations of families and children from 1955 until about 1989.
By that time things had changed. There were more options. There were King’s Dominions. There were Six Flags; there were more things to entertain children and I think the next several generations of the Harrison family ran it. Anyway, it closed down in 1989 and a shopping center management company bought the property and used all of the land that was used for parking for The Enchanted Forest for the parking lot for the shopping center and they built the shopping center there. Basically, the fence that surrounds The Enchanted Forest just enclosed all of these attractions that just sat there for about twenty years.
[NR] So they sit there?
[NR] And I should say, too, I mean, you kind of mentioned that it entertained a lot of people. It is iconic in Maryland.
[MC] Yes, yeah.
[NR] I mean, you mention this to people of a certain generation and it was like the greatest thing that happened to them when they went to this place.
[NR] So I mean, it holds a very fond place in the recent memory of this state with – every person you talk to from that generation remembers this place. So it shuts down ’89, grocery store/shopping center opens up. They sort of just board the thing up, put a fence around it. You start running Clark’s Elioak Farm 2002 and then what happens? You decide one day you’re just, “Why don’t we move this giant shoe?” Is that – ?
[MC] [laughter] Well, I credit The Baltimore Sun with my inspiration. I read an article in The Sun one morning in 2004 in the summer, that the pumpkin coach, the Cinderella pumpkin coach, had been fixed up by a realtor who put it in… There was a charity auction in Howard County to raise money for a variety of wonderful charities and they had asked the shopping center management company if they could get something from The Enchanted Forest and fix it up and put it in the auction. And because the pumpkin coach was mobile – it was on wheels, it was outside of the gate, it was something that you didn’t have to dig up to get out. They gave that to Debbie Burchardt, and she fixed it up, put it in the charity auction, and as you said, people are so fascinated by The Enchanted Forest that it made the news that this pumpkin coach was purchased by some folks over in Essex.
They were bidding against somebody who was just going to put it in their backyard for their children, and these folks were saying that they didn’t really think that was a good idea. They thought it should be available for more people to see. And they didn’t actually have a plan for it, but they thought they might put it in the Dundalk Fourth of July parade or something like that, you know, they might do something with it.
So I, along with Lance Gaber, a car dealership, and two or three other people, apparently that day, contacted the people who bought the pumpkin coach and said, “Do I have a place for you to put this.” And over the summer there was a great deal of negotiations and back-and-forth, and so on so forth. But in the end, the pumpkin coach came to Clark’s Elioak Farm and was there in the fall of 2004. Everybody thought it was a great place for it to be. It’s only five minutes away from the original Enchanted Forest. It’s in a family-oriented venue that you can come to six days a week. Everybody thought it was great and we loved having it there.
[NR] So that was the first piece?
[MC] That was the first piece.
[NR] So this is how you get – sort of the addiction begins?
[MC] Exactly, yeah, yeah.
[NR] And then how do – I mean, and also you described this was the easy one. This was on wheels. So how do you get the aforementioned giant shoe? I mean, how do you get to that point? Did you then contact this supermarket and the chain and everything like that, and negotiate that? Did you buy it? How did that all work?
[MC] I did, yeah, when my season closed at the end of 2004 I contacted Kimco Realty Company, which is the company that manages that shopping center and said, “Could I have some more pieces?” [laughter] I think they checked me out and realized that I wasn’t going to get them today and put them on eBay tomorrow. I explained what I wanted to do and how I felt it was really important to preserve these pieces because they had been sitting there for twenty years. They’re made out of wood and wire and concrete, and they were beginning to fall apart, and if somebody didn’t do something to save them soon there wouldn’t be anything to save. And they came back to me and said, “Yes, you can have them, but we want you to take them all.” They didn’t just want – which made sense. They didn’t want me to go in cherry-pick, pick a couple of pieces, take them away, make a big deal about it, and then they still had these pieces falling apart.
You know, people contacted them daily to say, “What are you going to do? Are you going to open up The Enchanted Forest again? This is our childhood. Why aren’t you taking care of these pieces?” And so it worked out very well for them and it worked out well for us, and there’s nothing like a win-win situation to make everybody happy.
[NR] Well, why don’t we take a quick break? And then when we come back let’s talk about the process of moving them, of restoring them, and what you have here today, and then maybe the future of the farm? And we’ll do that right on PreserveCast.
And now it’s time for a Preservation Explanation
[Stephen Israel] We’re fast approaching March 17th, and around the world that day’s become synonymous with wearing green, shamrock-filled parades, and corned beef and cabbage. But there’s more to St. Patrick’s Day than Irish food and few green-dyed rivers, however enjoyable those may be. Since it’s less than a week away let’s talk some fun facts and history about the feast of St. Patrick.
First off, the historic St. Patrick lived over 1,000 years ago, living the majority of his life in the 5th century A.D. There is some level of uncertainty and mystery surrounding the facts of Patrick’s life. What we do know comes from a combination of writings from early Irish and British Christians as well as the Romans. Some academics even believe there may have been two Patricks. One, a young Romano-Britain who was captured and enslaved in Ireland only to escape and return later as a missionary to convert much of the population. And the other, Paladeus, a Gall sent by order of Pope Celestine the First to serve as the first Bishop of the Irish Christians in 431 A.D., and that over time the memories and traditions of these two men have merged into one.
No matter the nature of the historical St. Patrick, his feast day, believed to be the day of his death, has over time turned into perhaps the largest internationally-celebrated Saints day in the world. A lot of factors have come together to turn Saint Patrick’s Day into what it is now. The far reach of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Irish diaspora is one, and the fact that Saint Patrick’s Day was often excused from Lenten observations of fasting and abstaining from alcohol consumption is another. Although in some places, Ireland most notably, the appropriate way to celebrate the day has not always been agreed upon. Throughout much of the early twentieth century, there was a ban on the selling of alcohol on March 17th, although the day was recognized as a bank holiday by the government. However you wish to celebrate, please have a respectful and safe Saint Patrick’s Day and maybe cut the snakes some slack. You can’t drive them out of anywhere they’ll have nowhere to go. This is PreserveCast.
Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast you’ve thought of a question that you have for us or maybe one of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.
[NR] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. We’re joined today in studio by Martha Clark from Howard County, Maryland. Before we took our break we were talking with Martha about all things related to agriculture and her work in taking over the family farm in the early 2000s. And, also, we were talking about the beginning of her involvement in taking on the preservation of The Enchanted Forest. And before we took that break, Martha, you told us about how you sort of had to go big or go home. You had to take on the whole thing. And they said, “Yes, you can have it,” and, “You have to take all of it.” And how did that work? How do you move an enchanted forest?
[MC] [laughter] It was quite an experience. It took 12 years. The last piece we just moved over in 2015. I met an amazing, amazing group of people. People with cranes. People with trucks. Just fascinating people who offered to help. The Harrison family couldn’t have been more supportive of our efforts throughout. We had a great experience working with them and they supported us all along the way.
So yes, I mean, I had a local tree company, S&L Tree Movers, who brought their cranes in and we picked up some of the pieces and it was very difficult moving around. It’s a stream valley and we were taking big heavy equipment on little walking paths and so it was quite something. We had Expert House Movers. We had Expert House Movers, who moved the Hatteras Lighthouse, and they came in. Their method of moving things is they jack the buildings up and put 6x6s underneath of them until they get them high enough to drive a trailer underneath and then the houses sit on the trailers and you can take them down the road. The nice thing is that most of these houses – we moved the Old Woman’s Shoe, which was is as I said 23 feet tall and 30,000 pounds. We had to cut that in half because it wouldn’t go under the wires on the road. It was too tall. In fact, I spent time with people from BG&E &C and the phone company, Verizon, going up and down Centennial Lane figuring if we could get under the wires, and we couldn’t. So we had to cut that in half.
We cut the Three Bears house in half because it was kind of an L-shaped building. So we had to cut it in half, put it on two different trailers. But a lot of the buildings were smaller and fit on a trailer by themselves. The Three Pigs’ brick house and the Schoolhouse and the Crooked House and so – I mean but basically, we went in there and I would talk to these amazing people with this amazing equipment and they would say, “Yeah, I think we can figure out a way to get that picked up and moved,” and we would do that. We picked up Willie the whale with the crane, and put it on a trailer, and brought it over. It was an amazing experience with tremendous amount of help from a lot of people.
[NR] And you’re a for-profit. You’re not a non-profit organization. So I guess in a sense, this was a preservation project that you were able to tackle because the farm, in theory, is generating some income, and you’re going to bring this over because the idea is you’re going to attract more people to see these things –
[MC] That’s correct, yeah.
[NR] – and they come to the farm, and spend money, and keep ag in operation.
[MC] Now, some of the people who helped were very generous donating their time because a lot of these people went to The Enchanted Forest when they were little –
[NR] Right. You were lucky.
[MC] Yeah, and they were very happy to be able to help. So it was a combination of people being very generous with their time, and volunteers helping me, and being able to afford to do it by the money we made from admissions to the farm.
[NR] So once the buildings were on site, you sort of set them up in such a way that people can kind of tour through them. Who does the rehab work once they get there? Is it sort of a mixture, or did you get pretty dirty doing that as well?
[MC] Oh yeah. That’s again, there’s several people who I count on a lot. A guy named George Miller who has a construction company and does brickwork and stonework, he rebuilt Humpty Dumpty’s wall, and he rebuilt the wall that the shoe sits on, and put the shoe back together, and did the concrete work on that, and he continues to help me every year. In fact, we’re working on the toe of the shoe this year because it’s got some wear on it.
And Mark Cline from Enchanted Castle Studios in Virginia, who has his own fascinating roadside attractions in Virginia, his business is fiberglass. And so he builds, like, dinosaurs for dinosaur parks and things like that. And he’ll build anything out of fiberglass. So he has done a lot of repairs for me. He’ll also – like I had Jack, but I didn’t have Jill. I had the dish, but I didn’t have the spoon. So he would make the piece that I was missing. He’s done a tremendous amount of work for me. And then my favorite thing in the world to do is paint. So I have painted every one of the houses, characters, pieces at the farm from The Enchanted Forest at least two times, and I’m getting ready to go onto my third.
[NR] Right, because these, just so everybody knows, they sit outside, so –
[MC] They sit outside, and they need to be repainted, and spruced up, and repaired constantly.
[NR] So I mean, everybody listening to this, you’re hearing – obviously, Martha loves this. There’s a passion behind this, and you’ve saved something that is just truly iconic in the history of Maryland. What has the public response been? You put a lot of work into this. Has it been worth it?
[MC] Every minute of it. Absolutely. I have people, three generations: the parents, the grandparents, and the children who come, and really, it’s the parents and the grandparents who are most excited [laughter].
[NR] Yeah, and the kids are like, “Okay.”
[MC] But they show up, and they’re able to show their kids what they loved, and what they went to when they were kids, and the kids love it too. But it’s just so much fun to see these families show up and sit in Willie the Whale’s mouth again, and look up at the Giant at the top of the Beanstalk, and slide down the slide in the Old Woman’s Shoe, and just relive their childhood memories, and create new memories for their children. It’s just the greatest. It’s wonderful.
[NR] And in terms of hard numbers, is visitation up to the farm since you did this?
[MC] Well, we had only been in business for a couple of years before we started it. But yes, I think it definitely has brought more people to the farm, just because every time we would move a piece down the road from The Enchanted Forest to our farm, it would make the 6 o’clock news, so so it did bring us some publicity and some positive publicity. And, yeah, so it’s been a positive experience for all of us who’ve been involved in it.
[NR] If anyone out there listening is interested in doing something similar or they see a piece of iconic roadside history potentially threatened in their community, do you have any advice for them? Anything that you would wish you had known at the beginning of this?
[MC] Oh, gee, it’s such an individual thing. I think that probably the best thing to do is to work with organizations like Preservation Maryland, about Preservation Howard County, the Howard County Historical Society – they’re groups I worked with – and try to do it from a positive point of view. If you can work out a win-win situation like I did where we were getting those pieces that were just deteriorating on-site at the old Enchanted Forest site and giving them a new life, taking care of them, bringing them over, and fixing them up, helping out the owners, Kimco Realty so that they – because they’re a shopping center management company, they don’t have anything in their budget to take care of the Three Pigs’ House, just not in their budget [laughter].
[NR] They don’t have a Three Pigs budget line?
[MC] No, they do not [laughter]. So anyway, if you see something that’s falling apart or looking bad if you can approach the owner and say, “What can we do to help you?” Not that, “You’re a dreadful person and you’re letting this thing fall apart, how dare you?” You know, “What can we do to help you preserve this property and make it better for everybody?”
[NR] So what’s next for the farm? Anything new on the horizon, are you saving some more roadside architecture or…? You said in 2015 was the last piece that moved over.
[MC] Yeah, we brought over the – originally we didn’t think we would get the entrance castle, the white castle that was iconic on Route 40 that said, “This is the Enchanted Forest,” and then said, “This is the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center.” But, as we just discussed, these things don’t take care of themselves, and they do deteriorate constantly and again, there was no castle maintenance budget for Kimco. So they very generously allowed us to take the castle too at the end. So we’ve had a major 60th anniversary of the opening of The Enchanted Forest and opened the castle that we had fixed back up and – on the farm, moved it all over and put it back up again. That was the George Miller, he did that. But as we talked about earlier, the maintenance is constant so we’re right now just making sure that everything stays repaired, and painted, and fixed up. We got a train last year –
[NR] That’s exciting.
[MC] – and so every year we try to do something new and different. And just opening up for the season is always exciting we –
[NR] That’s coming soon?
[MC] Yes, it is, we’re opening up – we normally open up April 1st but this year we’re opening up on March 30th because Easter is very early this year. Easter is April 1st. So Easter weekend’s a really big weekend for us. We do egg hunts and we have baby goats, and lambs, and chicks, and all of that – all the early spring things that make it fun to visit the farm.
[NR] And speaking of visiting the farm, or learning more about it, where can people find out all the information if they want to plan a visit or they’re coming into town, how do they find out about you?
[MC] Well, we have a website. You can Google Clark’s Elioak Farm and find it. Our web address is www.ClarkLandFarm.com and there’s a lot of information on the website and you can e-mail us or call us if you have any other questions.
[NR] Great. And before we let you go, we ask the most difficult question of anyone who loves historic places, which is what’s your favorite historic building or place?
[MC] You know, my two passions are agriculture and historic preservation. I’ve worked on many boards and commissions over the years on those issues. But I was thinking about this. I think my favorite place is Annapolis. My Dad was in the Legislature for a number of years and I used to go down and watch him on the floor of the Senate. And I lived in Annapolis for a couple of years and I just love walking around the streets of Annapolis. I’m very proud of the fact that the state house in Annapolis is the only State House in the United States that’s in continuous use from when it was built as the State Capital. It’s just a lovely town and every time I go there I enjoy visiting it.
[NR] Yeah, hard to argue with that answer, we’ll take it. Annapolis works. Well, Martha, I mean, it’s been a pleasure to have you in here today with us, and also just – we appreciate so much the good work that you’ve done to save what we keep saying over and over again, but truly is just an iconic piece of Maryland history, that hopefully will be with us for many years to come. I know your daughter is, I guess, seventh generation working on the farm, so it seems like not only the farm but the… Enchanted Forest has a bright future ahead of it. So thank you so much for the work that you’ve done.
[MC] You’re very welcome, it’s been a labor of love and I’ll be on those roofs as long as I can wield a paintbrush [laughter].
[NR] Sounds good, thanks so much.
You don’t need to open a history book to find us. Available online from iTunes and their Google Play Store as well as our website: PresMD.org. This is PreserveCast.
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
To learn about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guests, visit: PreservationMaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @PreservationMD. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving!
In 2016, Preservation Maryland and Preservation Howard County hosted a preservation table at the 60th anniversary celebration at Enchanted Forest. You can celebrate your memories of the Enchanted Forest with Martha Clark’s book “The Enchanted Forest: Memories of Maryland’s Storybook Park,” and this DVD with vintage footage.
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