Jane B. Viele, a Harford County preservationist whose 18th-century home, Mount Friendship, was a “must see” on the annual Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, died June 16 at her home from heart failure.
She was 97.
“She was a very pleasant person who was very interested in historic preservation, her gardens, and what was going on in Harford County,” said Peter A. Jay, a Churchville farmer and former owner and publisher of the Record newspaper in Aberdeen.
“She and her husband were friends of my parents, and my mother would always describe her as a very ‘determined person,’ ” he said.
The former Jane Bennington, the daughter of Henry Leland Bennington and his wife, Helen Aull Bennington, was born in Perry Point and raised on the family farm near Havre de Grace.
She was a graduate of Harford County public schools and in 1942 married Frederick J. Viele, the president of Viele & Co. Inc., an Aberdeen hardware store and lumberyard founded by his father in 1919.
The center of Mrs. Viele’s life was her Havre de Grace home, Mount Friendship, with its gardens and holly-tree-lined driveway that The Baltimore Sun in a 1972 article described “as an Eighteenth Century manor house which retains its proportioned rooms, woodwork and large windows.”
Mrs. Viele filled its spacious rooms with period antique furniture and paintings and, with the assistance of her husband, made it an obligatory stop on the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage.
Historic preservation came naturally to Mrs. Viele, who served as a member of the Susquehanna State Park Advisory Board and chaired the Harford County Committee of the Maryland Historical Trust.
She also played an instrumental role in raising funds to place a historical marker at Chilbury Point on Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1976 that recalled Baltimore Town, a colonial settlement and tobacco port on the Bush River that dated to the 1670s and had once been the seat of Baltimore County.
Mrs. Viele also provided research material that initiated an archaeological dig at the site in Harford County.
“Archaeologists digging gingerly amid unexploded munitions at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground say they have found traces of that first Baltimore, a town that vanished decades before the 1729 founding of a new Baltimore, 20 miles to the south on the Patapsco River,” reported The Sun in 2014.
One of her significant preservation achievements came when she was research chair of the Susquehanna Historic District for the National Register of Historic Places, where she was able to secure funding from the Maryland General Assembly for the restoration of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal lock in Havre de Grace, which is part of the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House.
The lock marks the southern terminus of the canal, which stretched 45 miles from Wrightsville, Pa., to Havre de Grace, and was completed in 1840.
Mrs. Viele, as a member of the Maryland Chapter of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, played an active role in the operation of Mount Clare Mansion in Southwest Baltimore, the 1760 colonial estate of Charles Carroll the barrister and his family.
From 1990 to 1999, she chaired the house committee which governed the operation of the historic home. The Colonial Dames also appointed Mrs. Viele as Maryland Regent for Gunston Hall, the colonial estate in Mason Neck, Va., that was home to George Mason, author in 1776 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was the basis of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Mrs. Viele was a the prime fundraiser to obtain funds for a memorial in Washington to George Mason that was dedicated in West Potomac Park in 2008.
She was as passionate about daffodils as she was historic preservation. She was a member of the Hardy Garden Club, former president of the Evergreen Garden Club and the Harford County Garden Club.
Mrs. Viele successfully completed the Longwood Gardens Short Course, which led to a certificate of merit and accreditation as a judge for the American Daffodil Society, as a judge for horticulture for the Garden Club of America and a horticulture committee consultantship for the Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton.
“She was certainly very knowledgeable when it same to daffodils,” said a niece, Anne M. Pomeroy of Churchville. “She was a very thoughtful person and outspoken in a proper way and that was to further happiness.”
Every year, Mrs. Viele would plant bulbs from Holland that would bloom in time for the annual daffodil show at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore County’s Woodbrook neighborhood.
“She would carefully select the daffodils for exhibition and transport them to the show in the family car,” a son, Frederick O. Viele of Atlanta, wrote in a biographical profile of his mother. “To the envy of many of the participants, her daffodils always won a plethora of blue ribbons.”
Her husband, who later was founding chairman in 1964 and first president of Harford National Bank, died in 2001.
Mrs. Viele was a lifelong member of Grove Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, where funeral services were held Tuesday.
In addition to her son and niece, she is survived by another son, Robert J. Viele of Havre de Grace; a brother, James Bennington of Abilene, Texas; a sister, Helen Zengerle of Frederick; a granddaughter; and a great-grandson.