Preserving county's past

The Baltimore Sun

Half of the properties listed among Preservation Howard County's Top 10 Endangered Sites this year are new to the annual inventory, as the nonprofit volunteer group tries to get people excited about saving historic houses, barns, school and even neighborhoods.

Among the list's newcomers are the U.S. post office on Main Street in Ellicott City, the ruins of the St. Charles seminary in Ellicott City, the crossroads community of Highland and three buildings in Columbia Town Center designed by Frank O. Gehry.

A former schoolhouse on Stephens Road was added to the list a little too late. It was knocked down by the property's owner within the past two weeks.

The purpose of the list is "to bring to the attention of Howard County residents the importance of historic properties," said Fred Dorsey, second vice president of Preservation Howard County, "and to make [people] aware of the difficulties faced by communities and individuals in maintaining these properties."

The group relies on its knowledge of local historic sites and nominations from the public to make its list.

PHC plans to officially unveil its list today at a public celebration of one success story: the Woodlawn Slave Quarters.

The two-story, roughly 300-year-old building was a crumbling, roofless, vine-covered ruin until the Columbia Association started a task force to save the structure. Today, tours will leave from the county's Dorsey building on Bendix Road, starting at 3 p.m., to show people the newly rebuilt quarters, and a reception at 4 p.m. at Oakland Manor will celebrate the association's $225,000 renovation effort.

The slave quarters appeared on PHC's first Top 10 list in 2001 and remained on the list though 2005.

The list "was part of the reason we wanted to pay some more attention to [the quarters]," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, a member of the Columbia Association board of directors who served on the task force.

"It's just a remarkable achievement, I think, to restore this, get it off the endangered list and begin to focus on how to make it available to the general public for educational purposes," she said.

The outbuildings of the MonteJoy property in Columbia were removed from the list this year because they are being restored by a new owner. A stone mile marker in Clarksville left the list because it will be protected and moved when Route 108 is widened.

Other sites, such as barns on the historic Mount Hebron property in Ellicott City and the Brumbaugh House in Elkridge, have dropped off the list because it does not appear there will be any imminent action to save them, Dorsey said.

For every property that leaves the list, there are more to add.

The Columbia Exhibit Center was on PHC's first and second lists, but was removed after assurances from the Rouse Co. that it had no plans to take down one of Columbia's first buildings.

This year, plans to redevelop Town Center have encouraged Preservation Howard County to include the exhibit center along with two other structures designed by Gehry: the former Rouse Co. headquarters and Merriweather Post Pavilion. All three are now owned by General Growth Properties Inc.

Dorsey said the structures, the oldest of which is turning 40, are significant for their internationally acclaimed architect as well as their role in the early history of Columbia.

Barbara Nicklas, General Growth's vice president of marketing for master-planned communities, said the buildings "are still under discussion. All three of them will be part of the master plan [for Columbia Town Center]."

PHC would like to see a new owner update and maintain the post office in historic Ellicott City, which Dorsey said was dedicated in 1940 and is in need of significant maintenance. Among its attributes, it contains two murals painted in 1942 that were among 16 created in Maryland as part of a public works program during World War II.

Deborah Yackley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, said funds are scarce for building renovations but, "as far as us selling or moving, we don't have any specific plans to do that at this time."

She said she sees the addition of the building to the PHC list as a positive thing that might "get some additional interest" in preserving the structure.

Greater Highland Crossroads Association officials also say they are pleased to have the community included on the list as a way to draw attention to the high density of development in that largely rural area.

Zoning provisions are allowing developers to buy development rights to farmland in areas farther west and then transfer the density to properties in Highland, said Dan O'Leary, president of the association. He said 19 subdivisions are seeking approval to build at least 250 homes within a two-mile radius of the crossroads at Routes 216 and 108.

"We think we are being converted from a rural residential area to a denser suburban bedroom community," he said. "We don't want to bear the burden for the whole west."

The ruins of a recreation hall - built in 1906 - that was part of the St. Charles College Roman Catholic seminary were chosen for the list as an example of the burden communities face when developers leave a historic structure in the care of homeowners.

The Homeowners Association of Terra Maria, off Route 144 near Turf Valley, has undertaken a $70,000 renovation project to secure the two-story stone structure that serves as a meeting place and neighborhood amenity. But the group still needs $30,000 to complete the project.

"They did a good thing in saving the ruins," Dorsey said of the association. "Caring for a historic site is expensive."

PHC had hoped a similarly motivated individual or group could be found to adopt and move a small house on Stephens Road near Savage. Historians say they believe it was built as a school in the 1930s and likely used by the black community in that area. The structure was torn down by the property owner just after the list was completed.

Three significant manor houses have returned to the PHC list from last year.

Descendants of Charles Carroll are considering options, including development, that would raise funds to maintain the buildings at Doughoregan Manor in western Ellicott City. Howard Community College is seeking to increase its use of Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge for events and education. Woodlawn, off Bendix Road in Columbia, is the site of a new commercial development. Preservationist say the manor house, which has been included in the development plans, is deteriorating from neglect.

Rounding out the 2007 list are Christ Episcopal Church, which is continuing to raise funds to restore a building from the early 1800s, and Clover Hill in the county's Rockburn Park, which still needs a public or private curator to put the more than 200-year-old house to productive use.

Dorsey said PHC continues to hope that attention will help the cause of the county's historic sites.

"If we can generate enough interest in the county ... sites can be protected in a way which keeps the property owner's rights in proper perspective," he said.

Dorsey added: "We want people to look back on the history of Howard County and see it as it really was."

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

Endangered list

Preservation Howard County's Top 10 Endangered Sites for 2007:

Doughoregan Manor, Ellicott City, was the home of Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll.

Belmont, Elkridge, is a historic Colonial home-turned-conference center.

Woodlawn, Columbia, is a historic home from the 1800s.

The Gehry Buildings, Columbia, include the former Rouse headquarters, the former Columbia exhibit center and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Christ Episcopal Church, Columbia, is the oldest Episcopal church in Howard County.

Ellicott City post office on Main Street dates back to 1940.

Highland is a community at the crossroads of Routes 216 and 108.

St. Charles College ruins, Ellicott City, are the remains of a Catholic seminary recreation hall from 1906.

Stephens Road Schoolhouse, Savage, is believed to have been a community school in the 1930s.

Clover Hill, Elkridge, is a home from the 1700s in Rockburn Park.

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