Fire repairs delay his homecoming

January 21, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

For almost two years, Bob Skaggs has waited to move back into the historic home he bought in Savage on Valentine's Day in 1975 -- and he'll have to wait a little longer.

Badly damaged by fire two years ago, the house once owned by Commodore Joshua Barney, a prominent naval commander of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, will require at least six more months to restore, workers say.

In the meantime, Mr. Skaggs, an amateur local historian, remains fiercely protective of the 2 1/2 -story brick and wooden structure, refusing to allow pictures to be taken while repairs are being made.

"The house has suffered enough indignity," Mr. Skaggs said. "But it'll basically look like it did before. We're being very careful about that."

The 183-year-old house was built by Commodore Barney, one of the most respected men in U.S. naval history, who lived from 1759 to 1818.

Commodore Barney took a stand against the British during the War of 1812 as one of the officers leading the defense of the Federal City, and was among the U.S. forces that took the last stand against the British during the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814.

The Baltimore native built his house on a farm on Savage. The original building has been added to through the years, most recently in 1946 by Margaret Cahall, who ran a boarding school in the house from 1944 to 1950.

The school served up to 15 children in kindergarten through seventh grade, said Marian Mathews, a former teacher.

In addition to regular academic subjects and five teachers, "we had . . . a music instructor and also a [horseback] riding instructor." Ms. Mathews said.

In 1978, after studying the house's history, Mr. Skaggs managed to have it placed on the National Register as a historic site. His study has led many in Savage to refer to him as one of its local historians.

But on March 17, 1992, a fire, believed to have been caused by a spark from one of the two fireplaces, burned through the roof and gutted the main section of the house.

Two other sections, built in 1941 and 1946, suffered minimal damage.

The blaze has forced Mr. Skaggs to begin replacing the main section's third floor and to do extensive repairs to the first and second floors. In all, the house had more than $100,000 in damage in the fire. Insurance is paying for the restoration.

During the next six months, workers will continue to repair structural damage as well as the utility system, which now must meet the current county code.

In the meantime, Mr. Skaggs and his wife, Wava, have been living in a trailer on the property, a few hundred feet from the house.

"We have to put the thing back together," he said. "We have to fix what was done by the fire."

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