The American Shed: Providing A Place For Your Stuff

October 13, 1991|By Margaret Friedrich | Margaret Friedrich,Contributing writer

The autumn wind rustles through the yellow cornfield west of Centennial Park, past the Clark family farmhouse to an unassuming log shed.

Nestled under a dogwood tree with bright red buds, the shed that was handcrafted by pioneers before the Civil War stands as a sentinel to Howard County's past.

Howard County is dotted with wood and steel sheds of every size, shape and color. Over the centuries, with a little imagination and extra effort, residents have transformed them into playhouses, outhouses, ice houses, guest cabins and pool houses.

Just as the early homesteaders did, former State Senator James Clark and his wife, Lillian, still cure hams in their old log shed. It was built as a smokehousein 1840.

And in addition to all the things people store in them, sheds can hold fond memories. Many blissful childhood days have been spent sneaking away to a red, creaking shed filled with smells of thedamp earth.

"I think it brings you back," said Don Kurtzman, a Catonsville man who volunteers in the Howard County Master Gardener Program. "I have a sickle. It's a hand-me-down from a shed like that."

Leaning on a barn-shaped shed at the Howard County Cooperative Extension Service, which oversees the volunteer program, the master gardener remembered sheds in his childhood as a place to escape to a man'sworld of tools and machinery. Kurtzman said that he spent days poking around tools, like an old corn planter he found. This was his chance for discovery.

Sheds are America's catch-alls. Most people erectsheds to house the "stuff" overflowing from their attics and garages, according to Howard County Cooperative Extension agent Scott Aker.

Take a look in a neighbor's shed. Chances are it's jammed with shovels, rusty rakes with missing teeth, gardening gloves, old wooden barrels, scattered nails, potting soil, pot belly stoves, old, shoddy porch furniture, window screens, wheel barrels, croquet sets, lawn mowers, antique printing presses and things to be sold at the next garage sale.

Today, these little buildings are made of rust-proofed, galvanized steel or pressure-treated wood, according to Howard Rohrer, manager of Hechinger's in Columbia. He said some customers choose to have a subcontractor build their sheds, but many do-it-yourselfers can do it, too. The self-constructed steel sheds begin to sell at $160,while the price tag of a wooden building constructed by a contractorbegin at $800.

Columbia resident Patrick Kelly said his Honeyladen Place home came without a garage, and his family needed the storagespace. With the experience of several other small home improvement projects under his belt, Kelly and a friend raised the shed in a weekend, complete with a wood platform and lattice work around the bottom.

Since he wanted a shed detached from the house, Kelly had to obtain a variance from the Village of Owen Brown, which requires that allsheds be attached to the home. Each village in Columbia regulates building permits under strict guidelines. Regulations for various villages, and throughout Howard County, differ and should be checked out before buying any shed.

Some "sheds" have become extravagant works of architecture. Thomas Jefferson turned a shed on his Virginia estate into a neoclassical pavilion.

But perhaps the "Frank Lloyd Wright" of all sheds recently was built by the Friends of the National Arboretum in Washington.

The $25,000 shed houses tools used to cultivate the arboretum plus seating for visitors in the front.

"That's what everybody would like to have," said the Extension Service's Aker.

To obtain free plans for a pitched-roof, barn-shaped or produce shed, call the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center at 1-800-342-2507.

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