Historic home too costly for Md.

June 02, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

A historic St. Mary's County estate that contains what may be the oldest wood-frame house in Maryland is set to be sold at auction, spoiling plans by the state to add the property to its holdings in Historic St. Mary's City.

After negotiating for months with state preservation officials, the out-of-town owners of a 17-acre parcel called Clocker's Fancy have rejected a $300,000 offer for it from the state of Maryland.

Tempted by rising prices for waterfront property in St. Mary's County and an influx into the area of affluent buyers of second homes, the owners have turned to an auctioneer to drum up a higher bid.

The property contains a wood- frame house most likely built before 1750.

No one knows the exact date of construction, but there is a slim chance it may date from the 1600s -- a possibility being played up by the auctioneers.

"What we tell people is that it's older than the bones they just dug up here," said auctioneer Richard Menard, referring to the opening in 1993 of lead coffins containing the remains of three St. Mary's City residents who died in the 17th century.

"We tell people that, instead of owning the bones, you can own the home. . . . It's that old."

Mr. Menard, of Homestead Auction Co. in nearby Hollywood, predicts a big turnout for the auction, scheduled for June 18 at 1 p.m. on the premises on Rosecroft Road. An open house will be held Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

In a brochure promoting the auction, Homestead quotes authorities who have described Clocker's Fancy as the "last standing house built in St. Mary's City" and the "oldest wooden house in Maryland."

State historians scoff at the claims, saying they believe that the wood frame house may have been built between 1720 and 1750. But they say they wish Maryland could acquire the house anyway to convert it to an exhibit about Colonial life.

In some ways, they say, a building dating from the 1700s could be more valuable to Maryland than one from the 1600s because it would complement the state's holdings at nearby Historic St. Mary's City. Since 1966, the state has been assembling land for its 800-acre living history museum on the site of Maryland's first state capital, founded in 1634, and it already has replicas of buildings from the 1600s.

Clocker's Fancy is located about half a mile from the museum's visitors' center.

The first owner of the property was Daniel Clocker, a carpenter who came to Maryland in 1636 as an indentured servant of Thomas Cornwallis, one of the three most important investors in early Maryland.

He married Mary Lawne, who came to Maryland in 1638 as an indentured servant to Margaret Brent, one of the earliest independent female land and business owners in Maryland.

At the end of their terms of service, Daniel and Mary Clocker were able to secure land and build a house on it. According to public records, the land now known as Clocker's Fancy was "patented" to Daniel Clocker in 1649. He died in 1676.

Lois Green Carr, longtime historian of Historic St. Mary's City, believes the house that stands today is not the first Clocker home but was built by one of the couple's descendants.

Historians say the age of the house can't be determined without archaeological investigations.

Maryland has only two buildings that have been documented as dating from before 1700 -- the Third Haven Meeting House in Easton (1682-1684), and Holly Hill in Howard County (1698).

"People who draw historical conclusions from real estate ads do so at their own risk," said Orlando Ridout V, architectural historian for the Maryland Historical Trust, a sister agency of the organization that operates Historic St. Mary's City.

At the same time, historians and architectural experts agree with the auctioneer that Clocker's Fancy is an unusual property.

They say it would be regrettable if such a valuable remnant of Maryland's Colonial era were to remain in private hands -- especially since the

building is not protected from demolition by any kind of landmark designation.

"I'm just shocked to hear that the auction is going ahead," said Ms. Carr. "It's something that the state absolutely should purchase and preserve."

Cary Carson, vice president for research at Colonial Williamsburg and former coordinator of research for Historic St. Mary's City, said he believes that Clocker's Fancy would be a "tremendously important" acquisition because it comes from a period not already represented in the museum.

"The site should be acquired and maintained by the state of Maryland," he said. "Not only to make it part of St. Mary's City, but to preserve the archaeological sites that lie outside the front door. . . . It would be a prime exhibit."

State officials say they can't prevent the auction because they are limited in what they can spend.

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