Preservation effort for historic Catonsville house

Catonsville, MD, 3/26/15 Staff photo by Ed Bunyan, Jim Jones, creator of the "Save the Historic Lapole House" Facebook page stands in front of the house located on the grounds of Catonsville High School.
Catonsville, MD, 3/26/15 Staff photo by Ed Bunyan, Jim Jones, creator of the "Save the Historic Lapole House" Facebook page stands in front of the house located on the grounds of Catonsville High School. (Ed Bunyan, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A boarded-up stone house on the grounds of Catonsville High School near the football field and off Hilltop Road may not look like much, but the building is rich in history.

The dilapidated condition of the building has meant an even greater sense of urgency for Jim Jones, of Catonsville, who wants to preserve it.


"This is one of the oldest remaining homesteads in Catonsville," Jones said. "It's a benefit to Catonsville to save a place that's a piece of history."

Jones, who is working on a photo book featuring images from "hidden and lost Catonsville," was taking photos of the building as part of his project when it struck him how neglected the historic structure was.


"I knew that this isn't good," he said of Lapole House's condition.

With support beams keeping the house from falling over and holes in the roof, the building, he feared, might not last much longer.

Jones established the Save the Historic Lapole House Facebook page on March 20 and the page had garnered 244 "likes" as of April 2. The first 200 likes, he said, came within the first three days of the initial post. The page is part of his effort to save the historic structure.

"Demolition by neglect is basically what's happening," he said, adding he fears that if the county or local people and organizations don't step in and work to save the structure, nature alone will essentially tear the building down.


Jones, 50, said his family knew the Lapole family, who inhabited the house that was once part of a property known as Farmlands.

It was built on part of a 10,000-acre tract known as Moore's Morning Choice granted to Caleb Dorsey in 1717, which stretched from Ellicott City to Relay, according to Maryland Historical Trust records.

The Farmlands house was constructed by Edward Dorsey in 1738 as a wedding gift to his son. The Farmlands house and 600 acres were later purchased by Henry Somerville, who renamed the property Bloomsbury Farm, records say.

The house and most of the outbuildings were demolished in 1952 to build Catonsville High, although the tenant, or gardener's, cottage remains, historic records say.

Known to people in the area as the Lapole House or the Lurman House, the building is owned by the county.

The stone cottage was added to the state's preliminary list of historic properties in 1987 and added to the final list in 1991.

The cottage sits near the Lurman Woodland Theatre, an outdoor setting used for free weekend concerts each summer by the community. The amphitheater is named after Gustav M. Lurman, who purchased the sprawling Farmlands property in 1848, records show.

Lurman, a native of Bremen, Germany, made improvements to the property and restored its name from Bloomsbury Farm to Farmlands, historic records say.

David Wasmund, treasurer of the Friends of the Lurman Woodland Theatre, said the theater would be happy to see the building better maintained. He said he has grown frustrated with the Lapole House's current state.

"It was a neat little house," he said, calling the building's state "degrading."

"It's kind of a mess now," he said.

He said he has contacted the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission with his concerns, but Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for the county, said the commission is not actively looking into the matter.

"Unfortunately, it is not being cared for by the county the way that it should," said Berchie Manley, a longtime Catonsville resident who had served as 1st District County Councilwoman.

Manley said she would like to see the historic building preserved.

"It's a part of our history," she said.

Jones, a history buff whose family's roots in Catonsville span three generations, said he wants to preserve the structure and transform it into a museum, where people can learn about Catonsville's past.

"In terms of historic structures, Catonsville can't compete with Ellicott City. Far too often in the past 50 years, we've seen historic structures in Catonsville being destroyed for commercial purposes," Jones said.

He envisions the building being used as an education center, where students from local public schools, as well as the nearby Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, could learn about the community's history.

"It's an opportunity to show where our town came from and how our town evolved," Jones said.

Jones said he recalls digging up pottery, milk bottles, flat nails, clay pipes and other items at the site with his history class, when he was a student at Catonsville High.

He said he enjoyed the lesson in archaeology so much that he's traveled the country doing archaeological digs and working to preserve cemeteries.

Elaine Middleton's grandparents, Charles Harvey Lapole and Ida Mae Clark Lapole, lived in the house, as did her uncle, Lloyd Lapole, she said.

Middleton said seeing the property in its current condition is "horrifying."

"Not because my maiden name is Lapole — because it's such an important historical place," Middleton said, pointing out that the school system has maintained another historic property on the school grounds, near Bloomsbury Avenue.

Mychael Dickerson, a spokesman for the school system, said maintenance workers will be installing door and window covers where they are needed to prevent vandalism of the building.

Jones said he believes more should be done.

He would like to see some of the overgrowth cleared away to make the house more visible and the addition of an extra crime deterrent, such as a security camera, to prevent people from breaking in to the building or vandalizing the property.

He said that he has plans to establish a nonprofit to raise money to preserve the cottage and turn it into a museum.

Manley said there is always an issue of raising money when it comes to preserving historic structures.

"Unfortunately, there is not much interest in historic preservation in Baltimore County," Manley said. "Maryland has never been on the forefront of historic preservation."