State gets 2nd chance at historic home

June 19, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

ST. MARY'S CITY -- An auction yesterday might have settled the matter of who will own Clocker's Fancy, a historic house on the edge of town that some say is the oldest wooden house in Maryland.

But heirs to the property are giving the state another four days to work up a better offer, with help from some members of the local historic commission.

Led by former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who owns a house across the St. Mary's River and is president of Historic St. Mary's City, the group is trying to round up a few thousand dollars to sweeten the state's offer of $320,000.

Yesterday's high bid of $325,000 came from developer Ben Burroughs Jr., a former St. Mary's County sheriff.

Mr. Burroughs, a St. Mary's County native, remembers Clocker's Fancy from when he rode his motor scooter up to the door as a 14-year-old selling Fuller brushes.

Still a businessman, he came back yesterday, this time to buy.

Even Mr. Burroughs thinks the state should own Clocker's Fancy. And if the owners accept his standing offer of $325,000, he will give the state another chance to buy the historic property. But the chance will come only after he has it surveyed and increases the price, he said.

"Oh yeah. The state should have it. But I'm not the state. The state could have bought it today," said Mr. Burroughs, who has lived in the county all his 60 years.

"My offer is good right now. It's not good tomorrow," Mr. Burroughs told auctioneer Rodney H. Thompson before leaving the auction about 1:30 p.m. after Mr. Thompson announced that the owners couldn't accept $325,000 -- yet.

For another 90 minutes, Mr. Thompson unsuccessfully tried to coax a better deal in private huddles.

Clocker's Fancy, surrounded on all sides by state-owned historic land, goes to Milburn Creek, which leads to the St. Mary's River.

The land around the house was owned by Daniel Clocker, who came to Maryland as an indentured servant of Thomas Cornwallis, one of the three most important investors in early Maryland.

The house was probably built around 1750, although there is a slight chance it dates from the 1600s. The land was "patented" to Clocker in 1649. He died in 1676, but the property stayed in his family until 1877, for seven generations. It has changed hands only twice since then, in 1917 and 1941, said the auctioneer, Mr. Thompson.

The 17-acre property is heavily wooded. The white clapboard house is surrounded by flowers, herbs, pines and shade trees that sheltered the 50 bidders and onlookers from the intense heat yesterday.

Five people signed up to bid, but only three made offers: Mr. Burroughs; a county banker named Stuart McHenry, and a man who signed up only as Jim McBreen of Perryville.

The auctioneer and others learned only after the major bidding that Mr. McBreen was acting as an agent for the state when he made a bid of $315,000, then went to $320,000 before letting Mr. Burroughs have the last word.

Mr. McBreen is an acquisition specialist in the state Department of General Services, said his boss, Carolyn Wentz, assistant secretary for real estate.

"I didn't want to influence the bidding," Ms. Wentz said, by letting other bidders know Mr. McBreen was acting for the state.

Mr. Burroughs said he is reasonably sure the property can be divided into two lots that are far enough away from wetlands to allow residential homes.

"After I know what I have, I'm going to sell it," he said. "I think it's worth a whole lot of money."

The heirs of the owner, sisters Barbara Barrineau and Christine Brandon, said their aunt, Louise M. Hagy, always wanted the property to stay in the family and resisted state efforts to buy it before she died in 1990. But Ms. Barrineau now lives near Atlanta, and Ms. Brandon lives in Greenville, S.C. Both have family and careers in those cities and don't want to keep the house.

"We hope the state will buy it," Ms. Brandon said.

Besides the main house, the property includes a tenant house, on which Strickland "Strick" Parker has a life lease.

Mr. Parker, who watched the auction from a wooden rocker on the screened porch, said he'd also like the state to buy the property. A retired teacher, he moved into the tenant house 15 years ago. He was a friend of Mrs. Hagy. She had trouble insuring the tenant house without anyone living in it so he agreed to move in. He pays $200 a month rent.

"I said, 'Strick, how long you going to live?' " Mr. Thompson said during the auction. "He said, 'I'm 80 years old, and I'm not going to die.' "

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