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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Historic house near Bel Air could face uncertain future

Operators of the Winters Run Golf Club near Bel Air are looking to sell a portion of their property that could include a house which local historical researchers say may date back to pre-Revolutionary times.

"We are selling some property," Dave Bubb, the private club's general manager, confirmed Monday.

Chris Demetrakis, the club's board president, said Tuesday morning that a 10-acre parcel is under contract to be sold to a Harford County builder, who will build five homes on the land.

The parcel includes the historic Joesting-Gorsuch House and the red barn most that is most visible from North Tollgate Road, both which will be removed, according to Demetrakis, who declined to provide specific details of the contract.

Demetrakis said the 10 acres are not being used, and the sale is designed to raise revenue for capital improvements and debt service.

"Rather than assess our membership, we decided to look at the potential sale of land to pay down our debt and make various capital improvements to our club and golf course," he explained.

The Joesting-Gorsuch house has not been used for two years, but it was the club's original pro shop and clubhouse and later served as a residence for the golf course superintendent, Demetrakis said.

"It's in such a bad state of repair at this point, it's not worth it to us to keep the house up," he said.

The structure does not appear to be in the best of condition. One of the exterior walls is severely bowed.

Demetrakis said the development project will "change some of the views on a couple of the holes, but it will not directly impact the course itself."

One of county's oldest

The estimated dates for the construction of the original section of the one-and-a-half-story, wood-frame house range from the 1680s to the 1730s, according to a published newspaper account and records with the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties.

That would make the structure one of the oldest still standing in Harford County.

"I would say it's well before the Revolutionary War," Jim Wollon, past president of the Harford County Historical Society and a retired architect who specialized in historic structures, said Monday.

Wollon worked with then-property owner James Shipe to restore the house in the early 1970s. Shipe appears in two photos published in the Dec. 23, 1971 edition of The Aegis, and it is stated in one photo caption that the house dates to "approximately" 1683, based on the book "Early Manor and Plantation Houses of Maryland."

"I think, just my own enthusiasm for the antiquity of the house, it made the owner at the time interested in preserving it," Wollon, 75, who was starting his architecture career at the time, said.

The golf club opened in 1972, built on 200 acres of agricultural land, according to the club's website.

Wollon noted the dwelling would have been considered "high quality" among farmhouses of the colonial era.

He said the manner in which the house had been constructed indicated it was built during the 1700s, although he stressed it could have been any part of that century.

"The way the doors are paneled... just generally how the wood was cut and how everything was put together," Wollon explained.

State historic inventory

The house is listed on the Maryland Historical Trust's Inventory of Historic Properties.

According to a nomination form, which is dated December 1968 and posted on the Maryland Historical Trust's website, the house "probably" dates from the 1730s.

"This simple old house has no historic event or name associated with it," Jean S. Ewing of the historical trust wrote on the nomination form. "Very expensive to restore, if that is possible."

Wollon said the restoration work of the early 1970s included new electrical and HVAC systems, a new roof and "just a lot of tightening up of the house, because the wind and the rain would blow through it."

An addition has been built onto the house over the years, and photographs provided by the county historical society show the house in various states of disrepair and refurbishment.

The original section of the house has a "gambrel" roof, which is a design similar to that of a barn roof.

No protection

Richard Sherrill, the current president of the county historical society, and president of the Bel Air American History Club, said members of the history club conducted a survey of the structure several years ago.

"Old houses of that nature are not a renewable resource," he said. .

Sherrill noted in a follow-up e-mail that the design is similar to other historic Harford County houses built during the late 1700s and early 1800s "that have a similar size, frame construction and a gambrel roof."

Ivy Freitag, a preservation planner with the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning, said the dwelling was also known as the "Onion House."

She stressed that being listed on the Maryland Historical Trust's inventory cannot protect it from being torn down.

"The inventory is simply a source, a way to maintain a record of Maryland's architectural, archaeological and cultural resources," Freitag wrote in an e-mail. "For historic resources, the inventory can provide information on current sites, as well as documentation collected on properties that have been demolished in the past."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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