The two-story dwelling in eastern Baltimore County looks like any number of aging Maryland farmhouses, but its past makes it far more significant than most buildings of its size and condition.
According to historians, the vacant structure on Bauer's Farm Road was built in the late 1700s and is one of only four waterfront farmhouses in eastern Baltimore County known to have been constructed before 1825.
In addition, historians say, it's the only dwelling in the Patapsco Neck area of Baltimore County that remains from the period when British troops marched through as part of their invasion of Baltimore during the War of 1812.
Accounts from the Battle of North Point indicate that Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, leader of the British troops, may have inspected the house just hours before his death on Sept. 12, 1814.
"I shall eat supper in Baltimore or in Hell," Ross had vowed shortly before he was killed by teen-age sharpshooters Henry Wells and Henry McComas.
After hearing about the rich history and architectural significance of the property, known as Bauer Farm or Shaw's Discovery, the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 7-1 last month to add the house to the county's official landmark list - an action intended to help protect it from possible demolition.
Preservation planners described it before the vote as the most important building in Baltimore County not already protected by landmark designation.
"That house was standing there when the British marched by on North Point Road," said Tim Dugan, chief of preservation services for Baltimore County's Office of Planning. "It has a significant connection to major events in Baltimore County history."
In addition, the house "retains a great deal of its historical integrity as a late 18th-century farm house," Dugan said. "On the outside, it looks pretty shabby. But on the inside, it's remarkable for being so intact, for being so old."
Baltimore County has few buildings that can help tell the story of its role in the War of 1812 the way this one does, noted Kim Abe, a preservation planner for the county.
"People are struggling to find resources dating back to the War of 1812," she said. "We have no other late 18th-century farmhouses that were there during the British invasion."
The preservation commission's action gives the vacant farmhouse preliminary landmark status. The Baltimore County Council must approve the designation before the building is added permanently to the county's landmark list.
The vote follows news reports that a private group headed by developer Mark Sapperstein has acquired the farmhouse and approximately 200 acres around it for $2.85 million and plans a residential development that could one day feature luxury homes costing $1 million.
Sapperstein did not attend the commission hearing. He said afterward that he was unaware that the farmhouse had historical significance. "I had no idea," he said.
"Have you seen it?" he added. "It's a house that's basically falling down."
At the hearing, staffers to the commission said the Patapsco Neck area is steeped in history and worth further study, including archaeological excavations.
The earliest settlement in Baltimore County was begun in the 1660s by Thomas Todd, a landowner whose family eventually owned most of the Patapsco Neck east and south of Edgemere.
The estate known as Todd's Inheritance, also in the Edgemere area, rises on land assembled by the Todd family. But the house that stands today is newer than Shaw's Discovery. In fact, it was built as a replacement for a house that the British burned in 1814.
The first part of the Shaw's Discovery acreage was acquired from the Todds by John Shaw in 1745, according to county records. The present house, a brick structure clad in stucco, was built between 1783 and 1794. Since 1940 it has been owned by the Bauer family, which operated a dairy and produce farm there for many years.
The property's connection to the War of 1812 came when British troops landed at North Point in 1814 and began marching toward Baltimore while British ships sailed into its harbor. The British troops were rebuffed in the Battle of Baltimore, the event that led Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.
Peter Pearre, a restoration architect who has been working to preserve Todd's Inheritance as an interpretive center open to the public, said he learned about the significance of Shaw's Discovery while researching that property.
"The Bauer House is unique in this part of the county," he said. "In some ways it is more important than Todd's Inheritance because it did survive" the British invasion.
According to Dugan, the most dilapidated part of the Bauer house is a wing that was added in the late 19th century or early 20th century. The original part of the house does not show as much deterioration, even though it has been vacant for 15 years, Dugan said.
The Bauer farm was built around the same time as Hampton Mansion, the estate north of Towson that is now an interpretive center and house museum run by the National Park Service.
"Shaw's Discovery provides an interesting foil to Hampton Mansion. They're really at opposite ends of the spectrum," said Ken Short, a professional architectural historian who researched Shaw's Discovery for the nonprofit Baltimore County Historical Trust.
Unlike the wealthly builders of Hampton Mansion, "John Shaw was a middle-class farmer. Shaw's Discovery shows how a farmer lived in the late 18th century. It's a significant find."
Sapperstein said he has no plans to restore the Bauer house as part of his development, which could also include townhouses, condominums and detached houses priced well below $1 million.
The developer noted that the Bauer house is not in the area where he plans to build new residences, so he would not need to displace it to move ahead with construction elsewhere on the property.
At this point, he said, "I'm open to listening to anything people might want to suggest."
Sun staff writer Frederick N. Rasmussen contributed to this article.