One Piece At A Time

The following story appeared in’s Laurel, MD dispatch on July 5th, 2011


A Laurel man has spent the last 16 years building a model replica of the city–and he’s not quite done yet.

In 1995, James Ladenburg of West Laurel began researching and constructing a scale model of Laurel Factory, the mill that inevitably lead to the founding of the city of Laurel. For the past 16 years, Landenberg has dedicated much of his free time to a project that, despite its historical significance, has gone relatively unnoticed by much of the Laurel community.

Ladenburg, now 57, is an accomplished carpenter with over 40 years of experience. His modest apartment is littered with hand carved wooden statues and signs that tell remarkable stories of a man who spent his life using his imagination and hands to create stunning works of art out of nothing more than hunks, blocks and slabs of wood.

“Since I was 8 years old, I’ve built stuff,” Ladenburg reminisces jovially through a wide, mustachioed grin. “Soap box derby’s, battleships, anything. I blame the Boy Scouts…I like keeping things kind of simple…but when you look at my work, it’s anything but simple!”

While the rest of the world was discovering eBay and the Internet throughout the 1990’s, Ladenburg began researching the history of Laurel Factory, the precursor to what is now the city of Laurel. For the next three and a half years, Ladenburg created diagrams and sketches, formulating a complete mental picture of the mill.

“In my mind, I knew exactly what I wanted.” states Ladenburg firmly. “I want to get everything, every last little detail, down to that great looking, white, picket fence.”

“This project is going to be about ten feet by twenty two feet long, and it’ll be in the scale of a quarter inch equals a foot,” Ladenburg explains, “It’s got to be constructed in five phases with individual display cases. The display cases are going to be 1850 through 1870 industrial style furniture, with the old, long leaf pine style…[Those] are the years that I can show the majesty, the architecture, the division between the management and labor. The construction, the style, is going to be, as I describe it, ‘Museum Quality Folk Art’.”

“Phase One,” according to Ladenburg, “will consist of the iron truss bridge, and extend 30 feet past the bridge embunkment on the North Howard County side to the Patuxent River, extending East and West of a thirty foot projection, and to the south to 30 feet up Yellow Row street (or Ninth street) with all topography consistent throughout the five phases so that when you put it all together, they all meet. This whole thing, when I get done, is going to be all one piece.”

“As a potential learning tool, I’ve compiled text, and pictures…so it’ll serve visitor and student alike as a reminder of Laurel’s past.”

The main drawback to Ladenburg’s historical model is funding and space. Without the necessary investment capital or space to exhibit, Ladenburg fears that his work may never be fully appreciated by the community at large.

Marleen Frazier of the Laurel Historical Society has observed Ladenburg’s efforts over the years.

“We’re very impressed with his craftsmanship,” Frazier says, “it’s just that in this climate, we just don’t have the funding…If we can generate enough interest, perhaps we can get private funding…He’s been thinking about about this project for many, many years. It is quite nice…[but] in it’s finished state, the museum might not have a place to display it because it’s just so big.”

A personal friend of Ladenburg’s, Janet Smith, continues to encourage him to complete his dream.

“The Mill is a vital part of Laurel’s history,” comments Smith, “and unfortunately it seems some people, particularly a large segment of the younger generation, appear to not appreciate that which came before them…It was something catalytic that made Laurel work and put it on the map, and that’s important!”