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Former school tops Howard County's endangered sites list

Howard County's only high school for African Americans tops this year's endangered list of historic places

The building that used to house Howard County's only all-black high school topped this year's ranking of endangered historic properties by Preservation Howard County.

Harriet Tubman High School opened in 1948 and was the only public high school for African-Americans in the county. It closed in 1965, when county schools were desegregated.

The building now serves as office space for Howard County public schools maintenance staff, but Tubman alumni are hoping it can soon be turned over to the community to become an African-American cultural center. They've been making the request for more than a decade, but this year was the first time their idea received state-level attention, with a bond bill from Del. Frank Turner, a Columbia Democrat.

"We just feel that it's time that something should be done," said Preservation Howard County President Fred Dorsey of the decision to place the Tubman school on the group's list.

Turner's bond bill was not successful in the recent legislative session, and the school system has estimated it will take between $12 million and $15 million to build a replacement for the maintenance offices.

Dorsey said his group hopes to see action on the project soon.

"It's a great legacy to the African-American community," he said of the school. "Preservation Howard County's view is that African-American history is really not that visible in Howard County."

Also new to the list to this year is Wild Wood, a two-story house on Guilford Road in Columbia's Village of Kings Contrivance. Built in 1826 by Achsah Ann Ridgely and her husband, Rinaldo Dorsey, the property includes a log house kitchen that's believed to have been built in the early 18th century.

Wild Wood, which has been a private residence for decades, is now being considered as a spot for future development, according to Dorsey, who said an interested developer had mentioned plans to preserve the historic house.

Preservation Howard County, he said, wants to ensure the county is "not losing another historic property if there's an appropriate type of adaptive use."

The past year has seen notable successes in preserving the county's history, Dorsey said. Elkridge's Belmont Manor, which made the nonprofit's list in the past, opened to the public in April and is booked for weddings and events every weekend through the end of the year.

Also in Elkridge, the historic Clover Hill house at Rockburn Park — which was on last year's list — is set to receive $300,000 in next fiscal year's budget for renovations.

In Columbia, the ruins of the Simpsonville Mill have been transferred from the State Highway Administration to the county. The structure remains on the endangered list, Dorsey said, to raise awareness about its potential as a space for historical education and other programs, in partnership with the neighboring Robinson Nature Center.

Howard County's stretch of Route 144, the historic national road that served as America's first federally funded highway connecting the port of Baltimore with Cumberland and the western territories, is off the list this year. Dorsey said his group still plans to keep an eye on the highway but decided to make room for other properties after statewide nonprofit Preservation Maryland added Route 144 to its 2015 endangered list.

Preservation Howard County has released its top 10 endangered sites list since 2001. The mission, said Dorsey, "is to continue our advocacy for the maintaining of historic properties to work with those where adaptive use would be a solution for retaining the property."

Also included on the list are:

•Troy: A three-story stone house built in 1820 in Elkridge. The tract of land where it sits is said to have been the site of military planning during the Revolutionary War. The house is in need of significant repair.

Commodore Joshua Barney house: This former residence of Barney, who served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, is one of 39 Howard County properties on the National Historic Register and has also been used as a boarding school and as a bed-and-breakfast. The home in Savage is now for sale, raising questions about the building's future.

•Heine House: Constructed in the mid-1800s, this stone and wood house overlooks Ellicott City's historic district. Preservation Howard County is concerned that potential development in nearby Parking Lot F could affect its historic setting.

•Ellicott City Jail: The shuttered former jail, located next to the circuit courthouse, is currently being used for storage. Preservationists hope to see it renovated and used for commercial purposes.

•Thomas Viaduct: The first stone railroad bridge with multiple arches in the United States, the viaduct was opened in 1835 and carried freight and passengers across the Patapsco River on the B&O Railroad. The group Patapsco Heritage Greenway hopes to restore the bridge's safety railings and create a viewing area.

Daisy General Store and Outpost: Long the social center in the rural community of Daisy, the general store is now a crumbling carpenter's shop. Residents worry a new owner might demolish it.

•Highland Crossroads: The Highland Crossroads Community was established in 1759. Dorsey said the community has concerns about development in the predominantly rural area.

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