Unless you live in Snow Hill, MD, you may not be familiar with Julia A. Purnell and her artistic history. Born in Snow Hill in 1843, Julia Purnell leaves behind a legacy of needle artwork. Her father owned the General Store in town in the mid 1800’s. This is where Julia learned how to use a needle and thread when she would sew silk linings into coffins for the store.
Throughout her life, Julia created many types of needle art, including quilts, cross-stitch and embroidery. It was not until the age of 85 when Julia began embroidering scenes of homes, churches and local gardens in Snow Hill. Most impressive of all is that Julia created this art free hand. She didn’t draw patterns or designs prior to starting a piece. She simply began to put her needle to work and eventually, her needle art collection earned her a place in the National Hobby Hall of Fame.
Julia passed away two months after her 100th birthday in December of 1943. The Julia A. Purnell Museum credits Purnell’s son with preserving her artwork, in addition to the many historical items that he saved from Snow Hill’s history. Also, Purnell’s son has built over 1,000 handmade wooden frames to display Purnell’s work, plus other artifacts from Snow Hill. These frames are also on display at the Julia A. Purnell museum.
It was not until the 1950’s when the value of Purnell’s collection was realized and the process to create the Julia A. Purnell Museum began. The first step was to find an ideal location within town limits where this collection could be displayed for local residents and visitors. The St. Agnes Catholic Church, which was built in 1891, was never a successful church and consisted of only 18 members, at its peak. Eventually, the Church closed its doors for service and became a municipal building for town officials to use for public functions. As time went on and the available space for public events grew plentiful within Snow Hill, the St. Agnes Catholic Church became home to the Julia A. Purnell Museum in 1957.
In addition to Purnell’s artwork, the Julia A. Purnell Museum also offers interpretive exhibits dedicated to life in Snow Hill and Worcester County from the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the displayed items that we noticed first include a projector from the Outten Theater that burned to the ground in the 1920’s, a real life one-horse open sleigh, and Native American artifacts from the Pocomoke River.
The Julia A. Purnell Museum is open for visitors April through the first weekend in December. Please check their website for hours of operation, in addition to local events and tour information. Tours are tailored to fit the needs of each individual age group. Even more convenient, the museum offers pre-packed field trip gift bags for school tours priced for only $2, $3, and $5 each so that children can take a piece of history home with them. This museum truly is a little gem nestled in Snow Hill, MD. If you only have an hour to spend, this is an excellent way to do it and bonus: you get to walk back in time with actual collectibles that are true to the Eastern Shore.