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A couple is saving a historic Clarksville home - by moving it three miles


The price was right for Denise and Glenn Bowman's dream home: $1.

Now, they just have to hoist the 19th-century Victorian off its foundation along a busy commercial strip in Clarksville, tow it three miles over roads, fields and manicured backyards to a new lot and completely restore it.

The heavy lifting starts today as workers from Expert House Movers use hydraulic jacks to raise up the 4,200-square-foot, three-story structure in preparation for the journey early Tuesday morning - a process that will cost the Bowmans $100,000 to $120,000.

Denise Bowman said the effort would be well worth it.

"We'd looked at so many old houses," she said. "We knew that this was a sound structure, and we knew [the move] was able to be done. ... It is exactly what we were looking for. Nothing feels like this house."

Preservationists and neighbors are breathing a sigh of relief that the house - easily visible to anyone driving the busy Route 108 corridor - will be saved, even as they lament the loss of one more historic structure along a once-rural road now crammed with businesses.

"On the one hand, I'm overjoyed that [the house] will not end its life in a landfill and will remain in its own hometown," said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County. "On the other hand, Clarksville is no more. What was beautiful, unique and precious along that old wagon road is now typical, boring, standard, soulless."

The house, which has a peaked roof, curved attic windows and plaster walls, is believed to have been built in the early 1800s and belonged to the prominent Clark and Dorsey families of Howard County before it was used as a dentist's practice and other offices in recent decades.

The Bowmans, who live in a townhouse near Columbia with their dog, wanted a historic home to restore, especially after Denise Bowman worked at the Historic Oakland mansion in Columbia. They heard about the Clarksville house a year ago after she started planning events for the Iron Bridge Wine Co.

Preservation Howard County had been leading an effort to find someone to adopt the house since 2001, when BP made plans to put a gas station on the lot. That fell through, and the Antwerpen Automotive Group bought the property to expand its business.

But while there was substantial interest in a nearly free house, the complexity - and cost - of moving it deterred many of those who looked into it. Others searched in vain for a likely property in the fast-growing, expensive Clarksville area.

While the house stood empty, thieves took a chunk of the banister, the newel post from the foot of the stairs and even the front door. The Howard County Police Department left behind paint-pellet splatters while practicing drills there.

A breakthrough came when the Bowmans found a newly listed piece of property on Twelve Hills Road that, according to Denise, was too oddly shaped for many of the new houses being built, but perfect for their tall, boxy Victorian.

"I think that is why it worked for us," she said. "We found the lot to fit the house. ... We did a lot of research on where to put it and how far we can take it."

The company that will make it happen, Expert House Movers, does the same thing with about 75 houses in Maryland every year, many of them old homes making way for new construction, said owner Jerry Matyiko.

While every move is complicated, "some are harder than others," said Matyiko, whose Eastern Shore company moved the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina and an airport terminal in Newark, N.J.

This week, Matyiko's crew has been sliding steel beams under the house through holes in the foundation. The beams will form a grid that will support the house when hydraulic jacks lift it 6 feet in the air.

Once wheels are attached to the beams and the foundation is knocked down, the grid and the house will be towed by a tractor-trailer up Route 32 and over several grassy lots to reach the Bowman's newly purchased property on Twelve Hills Road.

The move will begin at midnight to minimize the effect on traffic, and the Bowmans' cost includes permits, fees for temporarily moving utility lines and the cost of fixing their neighbor's landscaping.

A new foundation has to be laid before the house is lowered into place. After that, the couple plans to refurbish the entire house from the living room and parlor - which have counters and fluorescent lights left over from offices - to the bedrooms, bathrooms and low-ceilinged attic.

They have to install new heating and electric systems and plan to replace the siding and rebuild the front porch, which was knocked off to prepare for the move.

"We're going to do all the work ourselves," Denise Bowman said. The first time they walked through the house, "it took our breath away. We just knew this was for us, and we just had to save it."

The couple's commitment wins praise from Mark Foster, owner of Second Chance Inc., a nonprofit organization that takes apart old homes that cannot be saved intact and sells the pieces. He was planning to salvage the Clarksville house before he directed the Bowmans to it.

He said the Clarksville house is "a prominent structure in Howard County, and it has a known and appreciated history." A move such as the Bowmans' is "the right thing to do," he said. "And it's nice when people do the right thing."

Many Clarksville residents also have been supportive of the couple's efforts.

"It's a wonderful thing for the county. They're going to take this big, huge obligation on themselves to save [the house]," said Mary Agnes Lewis, whose family owns property adjacent to the Route 108 location and has lived in the area for 50 years.

Lewis said: "I'm going to be very happy that that poor, lonely house is going to be occupied by such wonderful, happy people that have the ambition to do what they are doing."

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