The museum — which will house exhibits such as wagons, sleighs, buggies and antique cars — will be the third building in the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum complex at the agricultural center on Sharpsburg Pike, south of Hagerstown, said Jim Sterling, county director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities.
Construction could start in July or August, and, if all goes well, the new building could open before Christmas, Sterling said.
The Agricultural Education Center board of directors is continuing to raise funds for the roughly $350,000 project, Sterling said.
The Washington County Commissioners voted 4-0 earlier this month to provide a loan commitment for up to $59,000 to allow the project to move forward while the agricultural board continues to solicit private donations.
The interest-free loan would be for five years and would be repaid as donations come in, Sterling said. But he told the commissioners he hoped the board would reach its fundraising goal before the loan would even need to be disbursed.
The project was awarded a $100,000 state grant in 2006. By July 2009, the agricultural board had raised $100,000 in donations to use as matching funds for that grant, Sterling said.
Now, the board is working on raising $75,000 to match a second state grant that was awarded in October. The board has raised $16,000 toward that figure and has until October 2012 to raise the rest, Sterling said. The county loan will bridge that gap in the meantime, if necessary.
The new building will be a 7,200-square-foot structure resembling a closed-in pole barn, Sterling said.
It will have restrooms, accessible from outside the building, which will be shared with the other Rural Heritage Museum buildings, he said.
When existing transportation-related exhibits such as old tractors, sleighs and buggies are moved into the new building, that will make room for more agriculture-related exhibits in the existing buildings, said Phil Muritz, president of the museum board.
"I would like to enlarge our dairy display there, we can add, maybe, some additional rooms (set up) like a house, and maybe we could even expand our country store," Muritz said.
Existing transportation exhibits include a truck from the 1920s, a 1933 truck used at a local feed mill, two antique cars, a funeral hearse and a Conestoga wagon, which Muritz described as "the tractor trailer of its day."
Museum officials hope the opening of the transportation museum will inspire donations or loans of other items related to pre-1940s transportation.
"It's kind of the old, 'If you build it, they will come,'" Muritz said.
Muritz said his goal was to have the transportation museum open by the spring of 2012 — in time for the museum's annual spring open house.
The Agricultural Education Center and museum buildings are owned and maintained by Washington County as part of the park system, but the Rural Heritage Museum is run by volunteers, Sterling said.
Anyone interested in contributing to the transportation museum may contact Dick Schukraft, fundraising coordinator for the Washington County Agricultural Education Center, at 301-739-9429.