Hayfields project foes call for study Preservationists urge county to assess farm's historic value; Called key Civil War site; Developers' attorney says issue already has been considered


Preservationist reinforcements have joined the "Second Battle of Hayfields," but whether they are in time to block development of the historic northern Baltimore County estate as a golf course and country club community remains to be seen.

Respected Civil War historians, led by Pulitzer Prize-winner James M. McPherson of Princeton University, say the Hayfields farm is the county's most important Civil War site. They are urging the county to order a full historic-impact assessment.

The Board of Appeals, which has approved a zoning exception for the country club in a rural conservation area, is considering changes in the development plan, including expanding the golf course from 228 to 276 acres of the 475-acre tract.

The farm is located at Shawan Road and Interstate 83, a site which some call "the Gateway to the Valleys," a cornerstone of the county's agricultural preservation area.

"I urge you to authorize a thorough study of the historical importance of Hayfields and to take steps to protect its integrity as an important Civil War site," said McPherson, author of 10 Civil War books and a Johns Hopkins alumnus whose "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for history.

The reinforcements are welcome, said people's counsel Peter Max Zimmerman, but they have arrived "very late in the game" -- even though much legal skirmishing remains, including multiple appeals and changes in the master water-sewer plan, which could prolong the approval process for several more years.

G. Scott Barhight, lawyer for the developers, the Mangione family, said the historic issues have been discussed extensively. "The Civil War history has been detailed over the years. The historic events have been at the center of this issue for years."

The "First Battle of Hayfields" erupted when the Hammerman Organization bought the farm and in 1979 proposed a 1,600-house development. Fierce opposition appeared in a "Save the Valleys" campaign that led county officials to twice deny changes in the restrictive rural zoning. Nicholas B. Mangione bought the estate in 1986 in the dissolution of the Hammerman firm.

A century before, Hayfields' role in the Civil War began in April 1861, when Union troops from Pennsylvania, heading for Baltimore because of the Pratt Street riots -- the mob attack on Massachusetts troops passing through -- stopped in the area because the rail bridges were burned.

John Merryman of Hayfields, the owner, was a first lieutenant in the Maryland Horse Guards, which was ordered into the city and then sent back to Hayfields to meet the Union officers.

According to J. Thomas Scharf's 1881 history of Baltimore city and county, Merryman offered any assistance, even to slaughter his own cattle to feed the men, to help the Federal troops return north. If they had marched into Baltimore, it was feared it would precipitate renewed violence and bloodshed.

Three years later, in the summer of 1864, Hayfields became important again, historians say, when the Confederate troops of Gens. Jubal Early and Bradley T. Johnson, a Frederick native, moved in to assault Baltimore and Washington and free Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout.

The Confederates bivouacked at the farm while Maj. Harry Gilmor's cavalry raided the county, burning railroad bridges and cutting telegraph wires.

The plan, however, was abandoned when Union reinforcements reached Baltimore and Washington.

"The Merryman Farm is a Civil War site more important than any other in Baltimore County today. It was a center of the Confederate movement in Maryland and also for the Federal countermovement to keep the state in the Union," said David H. Fischer, a Hopkins alumnus and history professor at Brandeis University.

Zimmerman said that the Merryman story and Gilmor's raiding are well known, but that he is not aware of any detailed discussion about military action around Hayfields as the case has proceeded. Several of the historians urged public purchase of the property for a historical park, but that would be prohibitively expensive at this time of budget constraints at all levels of government.

John Mangione, who heads the project for his family, said it would take about $11 million to buy the tract; his father, Nicholas, paid between $4 million and $5 million in 1986. The state and county paid $8 million in 1994 for the 367-acre Cromwell Valley Park "and we have 475 acres," John Mangione said recently.

"My family is keenly aware of the local significance of the Hayfields property," Mangione added. "Our hope is that our adaptive reuse of the structures will bring some real vitality and vibrance to the property, and we hope to honor its history within the mansion."

The three-story fieldstone mansion is to be converted into the clubhouse and a restaurant, which will be open to the public. The old slave quarters are to be the pro shop.

Nicholas B. Merryman, 83, a great-grandson of John Merryman and last of the family to farm Hayfields, has thrown his support, albeit reluctantly, behind the plan. "A golf course is pretty much the only use that would bring in enough revenue to maintain the buildings. It's the best use of the land at present," he said.

"If there was any reasonable way to keep it as a historical site I would approve, but there's not one chance in a thousand of doing it. It's a pipe dream," said Merryman, a Parkton resident who was born at Hayfields and ran the farm for relatives from 1939 until 1978. "I'd feel better about it if these historians would have a plan to come up with the money to buy it."

The renewed focus on the farm's wartime history arose about two weeks ago when Patrick McHugh, 31, of Fallston, an amateur historian and Civil War re-enactor, testified as an unsolicited witness at a Board of Appeals hearing that the golf course and luxury homes planned by the Mangiones would destroy the county's only remaining important Civil War site.

Richard W. McQuaid, president of the North County Coalition and the Maryland Line Association, sought opinions from various historians and five, including McPherson and Fischer, wrote to attest to Hayfields' historical importance and urge its retention in its original state.

Events at Hayfields "formed a crucial and dramatic part of the Civil War in Maryland," McPherson wrote to the Board of Appeals.

Hayfields' agricultural productivity also became legendary. Col. Nicholas Merryman Bosley started the farm in 1808; eventually it grew to 560 acres. In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette, the Revolutionary War hero, on his last visit to America, awarded Bosley an inscribed silver tankard from the Maryland Agricultural Society for the best-cultivated farm in Maryland.

Nicholas Merryman said the property "has been going downhill" since he left in 1978, and conditions have worsened since farming ceased a few years ago. He said that changes in agriculture eventually would make it impractical to farm the property.

Nonetheless, said Jean H. Baker, history professor at Goucher College and author of two books on Maryland in the Civil War, "If a stay is granted, I think there are many local historians who would be glad to help with a study."

Pub Date: 8/26/96

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