Historic district status sought for Savage millworker houses NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE

January 22, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

For 126 years Savage was a company town. Most of its residents worked for the mill and lived in company-owned homes.

Those yellow, blue and white duplexes still line the streets near the old mill, which has been converted into a thriving antique and crafts center.

The homes have changed relatively little since millworkers lived there, and some Savage residents are working to make sure the houses remain a part of the town's history.

"It's a great example of a millworkers' town, and everything's intact from the period," said Mary Ann Gardes, who's leading the effort to have a portion of Savage designated as a county historic district.

Ms. Gardes, a member of the county's Historic District Commission, lives in a former millworker's home on Baltimore Street. She and Savage resident Carolyn Adami have been collecting signatures of residents in the potential historic district to submit to the commission.

If a majority of the community supports the historic district, then the Department of Planning and Zoning will back the proposal, said Alice Ann Wetzel, the county's historic planner.

The proposed historic district would extend from Savage Mill to Baltimore Street and from Carroll Baldwin Hall to Fair Street.

The Savage Mill and the millworkers homes were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, but this designation doesn't regulate future development.

"We're just trying to preserve the village as it is for future generations; we think it's worth keeping," Mrs. Gardes said.

According to Vera Philby's history of Savage, the mill laid out curbed streets and built housing for its mill hands in the 1820s. By 1882, Savage had a population of about 300, with 175 people employed by the mill.

"For those content to grow up and live and die in Savage, the mill and the company provided almost everything needed for a simple but self-sufficient life. Directly or indirectly, the mill supplied food, clothing and shelter to all," Mrs. Philby wrote.

The mill's most productive time was during World War II when it employed 400 people and produced 400,000 pounds of cloth a month. Millworkers houses rented for $2 a week.

Over the years, some of old brick houses were modernized with aluminum siding and additions. Mrs. Adami, who lives in a millworker's house on Baltimore Street, sees the historic district effort as a way of controlling future modifications.

"A lot of people had been adding on to the houses, and it's been kind of a jumble," Mrs. Adami said.

If an area is designated as a historic district, all exterior improvements to buildings within the district would have to be approved by a seven-member Historic District Commission, said Wetzel.

Final approval for historic district status comes from the county Zoning Board, because the change is considered an amendment to the official zoning map, Ms. Wetzel said.

Jay Winer, the developer of Savage Mill, said the idea of historic district status is a good one, but pointed out that the designation can create new problems.

"It's a question of trying to balance the interest in preservation with redevelopment of the properties," said Mr. Winer, who worked to have the mill named as a national historic site. "It's easy to add on layers of regulations and review to what's already required."

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