If Joe Gochar, president of the Hilltop/Maple Community Association hadn't been curious about the origins of a stone mill tucked away on a dirt path near his Catonsville community 13 years ago, the land forgotten for 90 years may have gone unnoticed for 90 more.
Although the 11.01 acres adjacent to the Patapsco Valley State Park are in Baltimore County, it was purchased by Baltimore City years ago.
Due to Gochar's diligence, the land was donated by the city to Baltimore County, and is expected to be transferred from the county to NeighborSpace, a Baltimore County nonprofit that seeks to preserve open space.
"This is extremely historic and we're trying to preserve the history of this property," said Gochar, a mechanical engineer who has developed an interest in the history of Catonsville over the years.
Gochar, who lives on Hilltop Road, has been working since 2001 to ensure the land is preserved.
"The county is giving the land to NeighborSpace, under the provision that it is kept as open space," said Klaus Philipsen, president of Neighborspace. "It makes the community a steward of the land. We will defer to the local community to see what they would like to see on the land."
Gochar said that while looking at tax maps, he discovered the parcel where the mill is located didn’t appear on any plats, which are official maps that represent property boundaries for use in the conveyance of land titles.
A piece of property does not need a plat, according to Jeff Mayhew, deputy director of the county's Department of Planning.
It is usually assigned a plat when it is subdivided or developed, he said, and many properties in the county do not have plats.
But the absence of one in his neighborhood off Frederick Road near North Rollling Road intrigued Gochar.
"It was a mystery," Gochar said.
He, and the others from the community association, delved deeper into the mystery of the parcel, eventually discovering that the property was owned by Baltimore City.
The mill was one of the original sources of water for Catonsville, Gochar explained.
An unnamed tributary, that provided water for the mill and the waterworks, flows east to west through the site, turning south before it empties into the Patapsco River, according to a Maryland Historical Trust archaeological site survey.
Designated as the "Hause Mill" site, the property was reported to the Maryland Historical Trust in June 2013 by Gochar, according to the organization's records.
While the site has been registered in the Maryland Historical Trust inventory of historic properties, it has yet to be designated as a historic landmark, which affords it certain protections, said Jennifer Cosham of the Maryland Historical Trust, who visited the site.
The history of the mill dates back to 1850, when it was documented by a J.C. Sidney Map of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, trust records show. The mill was owned by Peter Hause, a veteran of the War of 1812, whose son attended school at St. Timothy's Church and became a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, Gochar said.
Records show the mill was advertised as a sawmill in a June 6, 1856, edition of The Baltimore Sun, and ownership passed from Hause to Daniel Vondersmith in 1859. When Vondersmith died in 1875, his heir, Peter Vondersmith, lost the property, said the records.
The mill was posted for sale Jan. 16, 1875, in the Maryland Journal of Towson. It was described as, "a large frame gristmill with new machinery complete...substantial dam...22 foot tall...doing a fine business," the records said.
It changed ownership over a number of years, and was owned by the Catonsville Water Company in 1886, which became part of the larger Baltimore County Water Company, records show.
"Eventually, Baltimore City started buying little water companies around the city," Gochar said. "That's how they came to own the property and they just forgot about it."
Baltimore County Water Company was purchased by Baltimore City in 1921, and a water filtration plant on the site was closed in 1924. The property "appears to have been abandoned since that time," the record said.
Neighborspace will hold a community input meeting for neighbors surrounding the site to discuss what they would like to happen with the property. No date has been set yet.
"Ultimately, I would like to see Neighborspace have complete control of the property," said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the area. "I think this is a great success for everyone involved and if there are any issues, I'm confident that we can work together with the community to find a solution that works for everyone to preserve open space in a high development area."
Philipsen said some residents have voiced concerns about increased traffic in their neighborhood, should the land be designated as open space.
However, John Davis, 76, who lives on Hilltop Road, said he is not concerned.
"I'd love to see it used as open space, as part of Patapsco Valley State Park," said Davis, treasurer of the Hilltop/Maple Community Association.
"All kinds of ideas have been put forth about what should be here," Philipsen said. "One that has caused some anxiety was turning the site into a lake."
Philipsen explained that, in the past, a lake on the site was used for ice skating. However, after determining that such a use would not be environmentally sound, such an idea wouldn't work, he said.
"People have lots of different ideas about how these spaces can be used and it is our job to figure out how they can best be used within the environmental and access constraints, like what we're seeing with this property," Philipsen said.