Preservationists seek protection of historic home near Bel Air

Advocates for historic preservation in Harford County are trying to drum up community support to preserve the historic Joesting-Gorsuch House near Bel Air, which is expected to demolished to make way for new houses planned along the entrance to Winters Run Golf Club.

"Everybody in the historical preservation community who knows of this is appalled to think that this 18th-century building could be sacrificed in order to provide one new home site for Harford County," Jim Chrismer, a member and past chair of the Harford County Historic Preservation Commission, said last week.

A plan to develop five residential lots on nearly 12 acres of the golf club's property off North Tollgate Road was reviewed by the Harford Development Advisory Committee Sept. 3. During the session, staff from the county's Department of Planning and Zoning and others urged the owner's representatives to preserve or relocate the house.

Gemcraft Homes of Forest Hill is the contract purchaser of the land and will oversee the construction of the five new houses.

"As a citizen of Harford County, as a resident for 70 years, it's just horrifying to me that a building that is perfectly capable of being restored be sacrificed on the need of 21st-century affluent Americans who construct a modern home near their golf course," said Chrismer, who also edits The Harford Historical Bulletin, the Historical Society of Harford County's quarterly publication. He stressed that he was giving his personal opinion, not that of the society.

County planners estimate the oldest portion of the Joesting-Gorsuch House dates to the 1730s, which would make it one of the oldest houses standing in Harford County.

Golf club officials have said the property is not being used and selling the land will help raise money for capital improvements to the course and debt service.

The Joesting-Gorsuch House formerly was used as a golf club pro shop and storage building, as well as a residence for the course superintendent but it has not been used for anything during the past two years. Club officials also have said the structure has deteriorated to the point it is not worth maintaining.

Chrismer said that if the house cannot be saved, members of the local preservation community should be able to document its architectural features before it is demolished.

"Our mission, in the county code, is to educate and work to preserve historic properties in Harford County," Robert Thomas, the historic commission chair, explained. Thomas is also the spokesman for the county Department of Emergency Services.

He stressed that "if the property is razed, it's gone forever."

"It doesn't matter if we have photographs or measurements of it," Thomas explained. "Once the property's gone, it's gone for all time, and that property has withstood severe storms, weather events and it has withstood 200 years, and it's something that we think should be maintained as much as possible."

Thomas said commission leaders have asked Ivy Freitag, a historic preservation planner with the Department of Planning and Zoning, to send a letter to the golf club expressing the commission's concern about the loss of the house.

He said the commission is also "seeking support from the community."

Robert McArtor, a Realtor with RE/MAX Components of Fallston, made his own visual document of the house about five months ago.

McArtor uses a radio-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle, called a quadcopter, with a GoPro camera attached to it to record aerial videos of Harford County landmarks and of properties he has listed for sale.

"I try and shoot videos around Harford County that I feel would be of interest of the public," he said.

He made a video of the Joesting-Gorsuch House in late April after learning it could be demolished. The video can be found on YouTube with the title "Historic Joesting-Gorsuch House Harford County's Oldest House in Bel Air."

"I knew that this historic house would be of interest to generations in the future of Harford County," McArtor said.

"I thought that over the years it has been very well maintained, and I would love to see the property located to another plot of land," he said.

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