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Farm is first single-owner property to gain historic district designation


For three-quarters of a mile, the bumpy single-lane road leads between rising fields of corn and downhill through shady woods until it finally opens into Victoria Woodward's oasis of rural calm and beauty -- and Baltimore County's newest historic district.

Welcome to Rippling Run Farm.

Six gray African guinea fowl guard-birds sound a raucous alarm from their perches in a locust tree near a stone farmhouse, alerting Ms. Woodward to visitors.

The house, well-shaded by tall maple, oak and locust trees, sits about halfway down a long slope to the wooded banks of Piney Run, a rippling stream leading into Western Run in northwestern Baltimore County.

It was begun about 1847 by John W. Armacost, owner of what was then a 180- to 200-acre farm. His initials are carved, above nearly illegible dates, on stones set just below two of the chimneys.

Two years ago, determined to secure the future of their 15-acre paradise, far from the madding crowd, Ms. Woodward, 46, a lawyer, and her husband, Robert W. Devlin, 51, a real estate agent, made a unique proposal to county officials -- that their farm be designated an historic district.

The County Council granted the request Monday, by unanimous vote.

This made Rippling Run the first single-ownership parcel to be taken as a district, said John W. McGrain, county historian and executive secretary of the county Landmarks Preservation Commission. "We hadn't thought of doing it that way before," Mr. McGrain said.

The other historic districts -- Lutherville, Glyndon, Sudbrook Park, Monkton and Corbett -- are communities. In addition, Mr. McGrain said, 130 free-standing structures are designated historic landmarks.

Landmark designation would have protected only the house, Ms. Woodward said.

As a historic district, however, both the farm buildings and property are protected from future incursion. Projects proposed

nearby must have an impact study for their potential effect on Rippling Run Farm, she said.

No change can be made to the buildings without approval of the landmarks commission, Ms. Woodward said. "It is a permanent easement."

The original L-shaped house is of stone in the Pennsylvania German style common in rural areas of Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, Mr. McGrain said. A veranda spans the front of the original house, which is four window bays wide, and in the cellar adz marks are visible on the massive hand-hewn beams.

In 1873, when the farm apparently was a dairy operation, a one-story wing was added that still includes the old sink for washing milking equipment. A small springhouse is outside the back door.

A second two-room wing was added on the back of the house about 1950. Ms. Woodward prefers not to even acknowledge its existence. Covered in white vinyl siding, it throws the symmetry of the house out of kilter and eventually will be modified to bring it more into character with the rest of the house, she said.

The addition fronts on a tiny paddock where Chester, her Great Pyrenees, and Molly, a tiny Jack Russell-beagle mix, romp and bark. Two donkeys and two pot-bellied pigs live in the barn paddock, a white ferret lives in a cage and four cats live wherever they want.

Two horses, wearing hoods to protect their eyes from flies, snuffle about the adjoining field. Ms. Woodward boards horses at Rippling Run, and has two mares in Atlanta.

Ms. Woodward, who grew up in Bolton Hill, and her husband bought the farm in 1989. They had been living in Atlanta, where she is finishing a two-year contract as a land-acquisition lawyer for the 1996 Olympic Games, and decided that the Georgia city was becoming too over-developed for them.

"We had put out word that we were looking for something like this in Baltimore County. Our goal was to get away from being choked out. We wanted stringent zoning protection, too," said Ms. Woodward, who recently was appointed as the 3rd District representative on the Baltimore County Historic Trust.

A friend in the real estate business heard that Rippling Run was to be sold and arranged a visit. "I knew when I came down the road that this was the house of my dreams," she recalled.

The furnishings are eclectic. "It's in 'me' style," she said.

Along with bought and inherited antique furniture, Ms. Woodward's collections are on display: old dog paintings, antique razors, soda bottles, shooting marbles, antique toys and old-time kitchen items.

Structurally the house was sound, Ms. Woodward said, but before they sought historic district status they made some changes.

Over its nearly 150 years, the house has undergone many changes, including shifting of the main staircase leading to the second floor and removal of walls to make two small rooms into one large one on both floors. In most cases, marks of the changes are shown by differences in the old chestnut and oak floorboards.

Ms. Woodward said she and her husband have invested more than $125,000 in repairs and renovation, with their major project the removal of two interior walls in the 1873 addition to eliminate a dark, narrow hall and open up the newly renovated kitchen. The change gives arriving guests a view of what was once the original stone side wall of the old house.

The farm's red-painted barn sits on a stone ground-floor foundation. Its massive beams are joined by wooden pegs. Although no dates have been found on the barn timbers, Ms. Woodward estimates it was built at or before the turn of the century.

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