Historic Uniontown bank in danger of collapsing
(KEN KOONSSTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

UNIONTOWN — Nestled between homes in historic Uniontown, a former rural community bank on Uniontown Road has sat vacant for more than 30 years.

Some members of the Carroll County Historic Preservation Commission would like to see the building restored to its late 1970s form. Historic Uniontown Inc. — a four-member board of town residents tasked with preserving the community's historic properties — also believes restoration is in order. There's just one thing stoping them: Neither board has any funding available to save the building, which within the past month was deemed a public hazard by the county because of a collapsing of an interior wall.

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Though the possibility remains alive that the building could be restored, there is a distinct possibility it could end up being demolished.

"Nobody wants to see something like that go," said Roland Childs, Historic Uniontown Inc. chairman. "But we don't have any recourse except to do what we're doing."

In July, Historic Uniontown Inc. submitted an application to the Carroll County Historic Preservation Commission that called for the demolition of the historic rural bank.

At a cost of about $20,000, the commission members would front the money for demolition and the adjoining property owners would then each pay $10,000 for half of the property, according to Russ Clarke, an Historic Uniontown Inc. board member.

Childs described the bank as being in "really bad shape" with a leaky roof, suspect stairs to the basement and a brick wall along the rear of the building that keeps him up at night as he wonders when it will fall.

"I don't know what's holding the outside wall up," he said. "I think if somebody bumped it hard, it would fall."

The Historic Preservation Commission is in charge of approving or denying the application, but the county has the power to override a commission decision.

The commission has allocated $2,000 — half of its available funds — for a structural engineer to assess the building Wednesday before it makes a decision, according to commission member Jim Bradley.

Bradley acknowledged the engineer's findings will carry heavy implications with regard to the future of the building.

Historical significance

The Uniontown Historic District, composed of about 75 homes in the area of Uniontown and Trevanion roads west of Westminster, is listed on the state's inventory of historic places.

The bank building was constructed by the Carroll County Savings Bank in 1907 before it was purchased by the Taneytown Bank in 1951. It operated as the Taneytown Bank until banking operations were moved in 1979 to another Uniontown location.

That same year, the bank building was then donated to Historic Uniontown Inc., which later replaced the roof, repaired iron bars on the windows, replaced a boiler, and made other repairs, with grant money the organization had received.

Historic Uniontown Inc. had planned further repairs, but has lacked funding. The building, as a result, has deteriorated over the years, according to Childs.

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Historic Uniontown Inc. also holds the deed to the town's one-room schoolhouse, built in 1851, and since the early 1970s it has been working to restore and maintain that property.

"Our goal is to fix up the school in top-notch shape, and the only way we can do that is if we handle one building," Childs said.

Clarke, who has lived in Uniontown for more than 50 years, acknowledged it would be "upsetting" to see the bank demolished, but if restored, he questions how the town could pay for its daily maintenance.

"We're trying to do what we can with the finances we have," Clarke said.

Though the bars on the front gate of the bank are showing signs of rust, the interior of the bank still holds the original teller station, banking ledgers and a vault, originally from York, Pa.

While the lobby looks largely as it did 30 years ago through the front windows, it is the back room — where an interior wall has collapsed — and the basement that are the issues, Childs said.

Available options

Prior to receiving the application last month, county historic preservation commission members were not aware of the current state of the Uniontown Bank building.

"I'll be honest, it was a bit of a jolt to see that application," said Matt Rohde, a Uniontown resident who also serves as a commissioner on the five-member county historic preservation board.

Since receiving the application, historic preservation board members held an emergency meeting to discuss the matter and have begun searching for grant opportunities to fund any restorations.

Four options have emerged, according to Bradley.

With the assistance of grant money, the town and historic preservation commission could attempt to restore the interior and exterior of the building for an estimated $250,000.

While that is the preferred option for Bradley, the structural engineer's assessment could determine that restoring the building would cost an inordinate amount of money.

In that case, demolition would be necessary and the Historic Uniontown Inc. application would move forward.

While those two scenarios represent extreme options, other options include demolishing the building but keeping aspects of it to create a community park, and removing the back half of the building and restoring the rest, which includes the most important feature, the teller lobby.

The Carroll County Historic Preservation Commission, an all-volunteer board, has about $4,000 in its budget, but receives no funds from the county or state, instead relying on grant money for large projects.

The Historic Preservation Commission has yet to apply for any grants in relation to this project, according to Bradley.

Childs, who has been living in Uniontown for nearly 65 years and used to frequent the Uniontown Bank, said if the commission can come up with enough money to restore the building completely, that would be "wonderful."

If it's only enough funding to patch up parts of the building, then Historic Uniontown Inc. isn't interested, he said.

"We can't be," Childs said. "If something would happen there, we're liable for it."

Reach staff writer Blair Ames at 410-412-4880 or blair.ames@carrollcountytimes.com.

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