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Minnesota Man Builds a Replica of Strafford’s Town House

  • Stephanie Johnston, curator of the Strafford Historical Society in Strafford, Vt., looks through papers in the back room in Strafford, Vt., on Thursday, July 26, 2018. In the foreground is the spire on a miniature version of Strafford's celebrated 1799 Town House. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A miniature flag sits atop a replica of the Strafford Town House made by ophthalmologist Daniel Maryland, of Duluth, Minn., in the Strafford Historical Society In Strafford, Vt., on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A replica of the Strafford Town House, made by ophthalmologist Daniel Maryland, of Duluth, Minn., sits in the Strafford Historical Society In Strafford, Vt., on Thursday, July 26, 2018. Maryland saw a photograph of the Town House in a calendar and constructed it from pictures his daughter took. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The inside of a replica of the Strafford Town House made by ophthalmologist Daniel Maryland, of Duluth, Minn., contains miniature chairs, staircases and pews in Strafford, Vt., on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Strafford Town House, built in 1799, sits atop the hill in Strafford, Vt., on Thursday, July 26, 2018. Ophthalmologist Daniel Maryland, of Duluth, Minn., saw the Town House in a calendar and constructed a miniature version for the Strafford Historical Society. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Daniel Maryland, of Duluth, Minn., stands with the miniature version of the Strafford Town House he built and presented to the Strafford Historical Society in Strafford, Vt. Maryland used photographs from his daughter to make the structure and its interior. (Photograph courtesy Strafford Historical Society)



Valley News Correspondent
Monday, July 30, 2018

Sometime in the 1990s Dr. Daniel Maryland, an ophthalmologist in Duluth, Minn., who has had a lifelong habit of building models, spotted on a commercial calendar in his office a photograph of the Strafford Town House.

To that point Maryland, now 84, had been more interested in ship models, beginning in medical school with his first significant scale replica of the Mississippi River steamboat Sultana, which exploded near Memphis in April 1865, killing more than 2,000 people on board.

But the picture of the Town House, which was built in 1799 and is one of the most photographed buildings in Vermont, spoke to him.

He likes a challenge, Maryland said in a phone interview from Duluth where he still practices.

As an ophthalmologist, he said, “we deal with small things all the time.” And winters being what they are in Duluth — long and cold, with biting winds coming off Lake Superior — he likes to occupy himself by building exact and exacting replicas of well-known ships.

“I try to keep busy because when you’re not busy you lose your mind,” he said.

Luckily for him, Maryland’s daughter lives in Newfields, N.H. and she drove over, taking pictures of the building’s exterior and interior from every conceivable angle. He also called the Strafford town offices and ordered a copy of Gwenda Smith’s history The Town House. The game was on.

Now the scale model of the Town House has come home to Strafford’s Historical Society, where it sits in a place of honor.

The historical society boasts a number of miniature models of the Town House, and it appears on cards and napkins as well. But this is by far the largest and most ambitious replica in the Historical Society, which is next to the Strafford Post Office.

Maryland shipped it to the historical society this spring after a period of trying to figure out what to do with it. It had been sitting on top of a file cabinet in one of his branch offices in Virginia, Minn., “Queen City of the North.” He’d gotten offers to buy it, but it seemed more logical and fitting that the model go to the place in which the real building stands.

When it arrived, said Stefanie Johnston, curator of the Historical Society, “we thought it was awesome. It was amazing he got all the detail.”

The model, made from pine, stands at 25 inches wide, 38 inches long and 51 inches high. Over the course of a year, Maryland meticulously copied every single architectural and ornamental detail, down the galleries on the second floor, the staircases leading to the steeple, the Holbrook bell, which dates from the 1830s, the weather vane atop the steeple and the three clocks on each side of the bell tower (although each clock has stopped at a different time, the result of the batteries wearing out, Maryland said.) It can be exhibited with the roof on or off, to reveal the interior.

The only adjustments Johnston made to the model, in the interest of historical accuracy, was to repaint the Holbrook bell black, rather than the gold Maryland had painted it.

A number of visitors have come in to see the model, Johnston said; after all, it is the town’s icon, she said. “They’re just in awe, really.”

Maryland visited Strafford earlier this month with his daughter and granddaughter in Newfields; it was his first time he’d seen the Town House in person.

“The history of it is so wonderful,” he said. “You don’t see many buildings in the U.S. that old.”

Johnston took a picture of the nattily-dressed Maryland, hat on head, standing next to his masterpiece — or one of them, anyway.

“I always dress with a full dress suit and I like my hats, that’s the way I come to work every day,” Maryland said.

He’s been a dapper dresser since he was a kid, because his mother handmade his clothes. Thanks to his father, he began making things and building models when he was a kid. It ran in the family. His grandfathers were also builders: one a master carpenter, the other a steam-pipe fitter. In high school, Maryland took every shop class there was.

“You never know what you’re missing, so I took them all,” he said.

He also has a master’s license from the Coast Guard to operate shipping on Lake Superior. “I could drive the big barges, but they think I’m too old. I’ve driven big boats before.”

The last model he made was a replica of the Union’s Picket Boat Number One, a steam launch built in 1864 and armed with a torpedo, which, captained by “a fellow from Wisconsin,” Maryland said, destroyed the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in North Carolina. For his next project, he said, he hopes to build a replica of a Lake Superior tugboat.

Anything is better than turning into one of those retirees, Maryland said, “who go to restaurants, drink coffee, watch TV and get fat. I’m still working every day and enjoying it.”

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.

 Correction

Stefanie Johnston is the curator of the Strafford Historical Society. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified her title.