Children may recall a well-told story and are even more likely to remember something they actually saw. But experience always has been the best teacher, and that's what's offered by Rose Hill Manor Children's Museum in Frederick.

Rose Hill, the 200-year-old home of Maryland's first governor, Thomas Johnson, is the focal point of a variegated free park. Costumed guides escort young and old through the restored mansion, urging all to touch the more than 300 19th-century items. The house has not been decorated in the traditional sense: Different rooms contain the three main exhibits that make up this unique "touch and see" museum.

In the antique-toy room, children can try on old-fashioned clothes -- shirts for the boys, aprons and mob caps for the girls. They can also play with the gingham dolls in an old wooden cradle, ride a hobby horse, rearrange the furniture in a doll house, or play a game of miniature indoor bowling. To get an idea of what school days were like in the 1800s there are desks with slate pencils and tablets.

Because even small children were expected to help with the chores, the textile room offers glimpses of some of the domestic skills they would be expected to acquire as early as three. Both boys and girls would card wool, as they may at Rose Hill.

Youngsters can also work with the lap loom or watch the guide work the large standing loom. It brings a real awareness of how much labor was required to produce the material from which the simplest clothes were made. Yet Colonial garb was much more elaborate than what today's: In the 1800s the layered look was really in.

There is a variety of quilts, both appliqued and patchwork. One contains 12 of the most popular patterns, including the dasher, bearpaw, log cabin and broken dish. Kids can add a few stitches to a quilt in progress.

Continuing to get in "touch" with their heritage, youngsters can explore the 19th-century kitchen exhibit. Here there is an amazing variety of utensils -- sausage stuffer, fruit cutter, raisin seeder, cherry pitter, grater, a barrel butter-churn and a pre- Cuisinart vegetable processor. Various herbs and vegetables are hung to dry over the big stone fireplace.

Outside the manor house is the kitchen garden, where medicinal and culinary herbs are grown. During the summer guides encourage visitors to touch, taste and smell various herbs (only under the direction of a trained guide, as some herbs cause rashes or are medicinal and can only be eaten if specially prepared). The garden also features a rose collection whose buds and blooms are the envy of visitors.

Next on the tour of the 43-acre park is the carriage museum, with more than twenty old carriages and sleds. They run the gamut from simple buggies and gigs to a 12-seat Park Drag that sold for $2,400 in 1892.

The sleighs, complete with lap robes, look as though they came from Currier and Ives. There even is a beautiful crocheted summer headpiece to keep flies from bothering the horse.

The guides offer many interesting anecdotes as they show visitors around this intriguing collection. Have you ever wondered how they got sleighs through the long covered bridges? The job of road crews in the 1800s was to shovel snow onto the road, or at least onto the bridges.

There is a cabin that was moved from a nearby farm, log by log. Again children can touch the furniture, sit on the straw mattress and compare modern comfort with the life they might have had in the old days. Of course, back then children didn't even have the luxury of a big straw-filled mattress close to the fire; they slept in the loft.

The last attraction open on a continuing basis is the Frederick County Farm Museum. In a split-level bank barn there is a collection of old-fashioned farm implements, from huge corn shredders and binders to small corn crackers and burr mills.

On the third Sunday of each month during spring, summer and fall, the blacksmith shop opens to show youngsters how metal things were made in the 19th century.

Rose Hill has picnic tables to encourage families to make a day of it. The center is open daily from April through October; the hours are 10 to 4 Monday through Saturday, 1 to 4 Sundays. In November, December and March it is open only on weekends; in January and February it is closed.


From the Beltway take Exit 53, I-270 to Frederick. Follow Route 15 north to Exit 8. Turn onto Motter Avenue, then left on 14th Street. Make another left onto North Market Street; signs will indicate the left turn into Rose Hill.