Two wills are one way to save a farm WEST COUNTY--Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

March 25, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Back in the 1690s, when Thomas Brown came to secure the wild area known to be the headwaters of the Patuxent River, he had only the elements, local wildlife and native inhabitants to worry about.

Lately, settlers of the area now known as Woodstock have grappled with adversaries Mr. Brown, known as the "Patuxent Ranger," could have scarcely imagined in what was then the wild west of Anne Arundel County.

Land planners, zoning attorneys and bulldozers are what frighten the local populace these days.

But the state has stepped in to stop development on the rolling 232-acre Brown farm known as Mount Pleasant. Mr. Brown's last direct descendant, Frances Brown, died last year.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced Friday that the state Board of Public Works has approved an arrangement deeding 105 acres to the state Department of Natural Resources and 127 acres to the Howard County Conservancy, a fledgling land-preservation group.

The conservancy, in turn, will sell 45 acres along Woodstock Road to the county for a neighborhood park, and use the $335,000 from that sale to create an endowment to help pay for preservation of the Brown property.

The entire property will be protected by a conservation easement to be held jointly by the conservancy and its statewide counterpart, the Maryland Environmental Trust.

The farm, which has two streams that feed the Patapsco River, is across the road from Waverly Woods II, a planned 682-acre development that will include condominiums, business parks, a shopping center and a golf course.

Area residents were bitterly opposed to the Waverly Woods II project but lost a yearlong zoning battle.

Half of the Brown farm was left to the public in the will of Frances Brown's sister, Ruth Brown, who died in August 1990.

"The history of Howard County is so embedded in farming that she wanted the farm to stay as a farm and be enjoyed for the beautiful place that it is," said Marguerite Walsh, daughter of one of Ruth Brown's cousins.

The key to fulfilling Ruth Brown's wishes was Frances Brown's will, written on the back of an envelope in 1976.

Frances Brown's will left the other half of the farm to Ruth. Frances had not changed her will after Ruth died because she was then living in a nursing home and was not competent to do so.

To protect the entire property, the sisters' executors were able to use the state's anti-lapse statute, which allows a person who is already dead to inherit property.

To spare the remaining heirs the possibility of paying federal inheritance tax on the property -- estimated to be worth more than $3 million -- the state, county and conservancy have set aside $1 million in case the Internal Revenue Service rules the gift to the public is not a charitable contribution.

The property includes a house built over the last 300 years around Thomas Brown's original home.

"What's now the dining room of the house is believed to be a log cabin constructed by the Patuxent Ranger in the late 1600s," said James Eacker, president of the Howard County Conservancy.

According to historical accounts, Mr. Brown was dispatched to the area by the governing council of Anne Arundel County "to survey the headwaters of the Patuxent and to keep an eye on the Indians and protect the settlers," Mr. Eacker said.

The ranger's great-grandson, Samuel, went off to fight the British as a lieutenant in Col. Charles Hammond's Elkridge Militia. Before the Revolutionary War was over, Samuel became a general. His son, John Riggs Brown, continued to defend the new nation in the War of 1812.

The front part of the house, which the conservancy will use as its office, was built in 1865 by John's son, Samuel, and his sons. Samuel, the grandfather of Ruth and Frances Brown, was elected to three consecutive terms as a Howard County commissioner.

During its first year of owning the property, the conservancy will work with the Department of Natural Resources to develop a master plan for the land.

Mr. Eacker said possibilities include converting the property into an 18th-century demonstration farm, reforesting parts of it and allowing it to continue as a tenant farm. The conservancy will also manage the state's portion of the property.

"The one thing that's absolutely clear is that the land will be protected in perpetuity," Mr. Eacker said.

Ruth and Frances Brown were county school teachers with 97 years of service between them. The two were avid researchers )) of history and were "great supporters of the county historical society," Ms. Walsh said.

"They also believed in land preservation and conservation and in just providing an opportunity for the children of the county to see what a working farm was and have it be of some benefit to the citizens of the county and to the state."

The sisters were especially proud of the gigantic tulip poplar tree in front of the house, which was designated a Bicentennial tree in 1976 because it was judged to be more than 200 years old.

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