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Maryland's oldest building is saved


At the end of a lane on the outskirts of Easton, a simple wood-frame structure stands as a national symbol of architectural tenacity.

The Third Haven Meetinghouse, built between 1682 and 1684, is the oldest surviving structure in Maryland and one of the oldest frame houses of worship in the country. In the mid-1980s, it seemed doubtful the Quaker meeting site could last much longer because it had suffered extensive termite damage.

Now it's ready for another 300 years of use, following a six-year, $500,000 restoration that won a national Honor Award last year from the National Trust for Historic Preservation -- one of the country's highest honors for preservation work.

What makes the restoration so remarkable is that it's practically impossible to tell it took place.

"There is no real difference between before and after," said Michael F. Trostel, a Baltimore-based architect who guided the restoration effort.

"Almost half a million dollars was spent, using the most up-to-date technology and materials, and we were successful in not losing the wonderful 'other worldness' of the ancient meetinghouse," he said.

"It's not a typical restoration," agrees Orlando Ridout V, an architectural historian with the Maryland Historical Trust, a state agency involved in the restoration. "It really is a case where somebody would have to know what to look for to know what was changed. That's the test of a good project."

Named after the nearby Tred Avon River (Third Haven is actually derived from Tred Avon), the meetinghouse at 405 N. Washington St. is a pristine example of vernacular Colonial or Chesapeake regional architecture. Though expanded in 1797, its interior has never been painted and never had heating or electricity.

The lack of modern amenities is probably what saved it, Mr. Trostel said, noting that many wooden churches burned down )) over the years. What endangered this structure, he said, were the termites in the damp crawl space beneath the wood foundation.

When the termite damage became apparent, members of the Third Haven Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends quickly brought in experts to correct it.

First, workers jacked the building four feet off the ground so they JTC could inspect and repair its underside. They poured a concrete slab to separate the wood from the ground, regraded the earth to drain rainwater, and laid a brick foundation.

Inside, crews took great pains to replace or repair rotted beams and posts, while minimizing visual or historical impact. Many original beams were saved. Where necessary, new ones were spliced in. Some posts that had been eaten away were bored out and filled with epoxy, then reclad with the original veneer so the new material wouldn't show.

Some changes are apparent. One can see where new sections of yellow pine were spliced into old beams and where steel plates were added to support certain rafters.

The miracle, though, is how much of the interior looks as it did when Marylanders first sailed up the Tred Avon or traveled by horse and buggy to worship there 300 years ago. Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the meetinghouse still contains the partitions used at one time to separate men from women. Its pews still face a raised area where elders sit. Even the new pine beams match the old, down to the look of the grain.

"What you are seeing is a 1797 interior. It has never even been painted," Mr. Ridout said. "It conveys a unique sense of timelessness and grace."

Funds for the work came from the Maryland Historical Trust, Maryland National Bank, and members and friends of the Third Haven Meeting.

Cited by the National Trust were the Third Haven Meeting; Mr. Trostel; Westwind Construction Co.; Expert House Movers of Maryland; R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates; and structural engineer Jerome Lamprecht.

The Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority have set Feb. 18 as the opening date for the "Coca-Cola All-Star Week Preview Center," a baseball museum and visitors' center on the first floor of the restored Camden Station. The temporary exhibit was created to promote the July 13 All-Star Game in Baltimore.

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