Up the hill

Plans to restore an Aberdeen church dating to 1866 at the corner of West Bel Air Avenue and Law Street are as good a place as any to start a bull session about history, preservation, restoration and the like.

Leonard McGrady and his son, Patrick, who ran unsuccessfully last fall for the Maryland House of Delegates, bought the forlorn building a few months ago and are working to return it to its former glory. As staff writer Bryna Zumer pointed out in her story about the project on these pages last Friday, the McGradys say they want to redo the building as close to its original form as possible. And they've tackled the project without any thoughts of dipping into the public trough.

"We don't believe that the government has any role in private enterprise like this," Patrick McGrady said recently. "This project will stand on its merits."

That stance is consistent with the conservative Republican mantra Patrick McGrady repeated during his unsuccessful campaign. Whether the McGradys will succeed in returning the building to an active church for the first time since 1991 remains to be seen. But that they are even trying, especially without casting a longing eye toward government for a handout, is worth noting not only because of this project, but also because of countless others in Aberdeen, Havre de Grace, Perryville and Port Deposit.

First and foremost, just because something is old doesn't mean it's historic. And taking that a step further, just because something is historic doesn't mean it's worth saving. I don't know why, but often when I think about history and historic structures and preserving them and the history they represent, I think back on a family trip to Monticello some years ago.

Monticello, the famous, old home of Thomas Jefferson overlooking Charlottesville, Va., has been saved, rightly so, for its historic value. But there is part of that national historic site where the Revolutionary War-era estate's privies come up in the conversation.

Outhouses, even if they're part of the Jefferson Legacy, are not worth mentioning, yet alone preserving, even though our oldest daughter thought so when we traveled cross-country. She photographed as many as she found and, much to our dismay, might have been on to something as we learned when we saw a calendar picturing a year's worth of outhouses being sold.

There was a flap not too long ago about the construction of St. John's Commons, a new senior housing facility at Pennington Avenue and Stokes Street in Havre de Grace. One of the things those who opposed the project cited was the possible destruction of a historic structure on the site. Calling that old thing that some wanted to protect a "structure" is being more than generous. In condition and in value, that old shed was far closer to an outhouse than it was to being something to save.

Then there was talk about the structure being too massive and overwhelming the community. I'm sure those opposed still feel that way, but it's hard to see how an objective observer would favor that corner from the days of the old Elks Lodge and the open yard of a rental business to that attractive new building. And for those who believed it might dominate the skyline, it doesn't. Travelling west on Pennington Avenue from downtown toward Harris Stadium, the roof of St. John's Commons can be seen, but only after the traveler gets about a block away and can more clearly identify it.

That's the thing about historic preservation in small towns, it's often easy to decide what's worth doing and what's not, but usually not until after you get a closer look.

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