New commissioner knows 'all the angles' of historic preservation

August 08, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

To Janice Menear, historic homes are rare repositories of history that can never be replaced.

"Once they're gone, they're gone," said Mrs. Menear, who lives with her family in "The Lawn," an 1835 Elkridge cottage in the Lawyers Hill historic district. "You can rebuild them but they don't have the same history."

As the newest member of the seven-person county Historic District Commission, Mrs. Menear has the chance to save such homes in the historic districts of Ellicott City and Elkridge. The 41-year-old mother of two replaces Jean Hannon, who retired last month after eight years.

All commission members must reside in the county and have an interest, knowledge or training in fields such as history, architecture, preservation or related subjects.

Because of her experience in historic preservation, her neighbors say Mrs. Menear is a perfect fit for the commission.

"She's dealt with all the angles," said Van L. Wensil, a potter who lives on Lawyers Hill Road, near Mrs. Menear's home on Old Lawyers Mill Road.

For the past 10 years, Mrs. Menear and her family have lived in the 5,000-square-foot, two-story house built by George Washington Dobbin, who was a member of the Baltimore City Supreme Bench.

During that time, the Menears have made numerous repairs to the house. They installed copper rain gutters, repaired the roof and are removing asbestos siding from the house. They hope to repaint the house soon and replace some floorboards on the veranda.

Mrs. Menear said making repairs on a historic home gives her special qualifications for the commission.

"I have hands-on experience with working on and living in an historic building," she said. "I would be sympathetic to the average homeowner" faced with repairing an older home.

Living in a historic home can be challenging, Mrs. Menear said.

"The heating is astronomical," she said, referring to utility bills that can reach $5,000 a year. "You wear a lot of clothing."

Before they can make repairs, the Menears must seek approval from the Maryland Historical Trust. The trust oversees a perpetual covenant on the house that protects it from destruction.

Despite the high costs of maintaining a large historical house, Mrs. Menear loves living at The Lawn, named so because its lawn once reached the banks of the Patapsco River a half-mile away.

"I like its uniqueness," she said.

Wood floors and odd-shaped rooms are found throughout the house, which once contained a darkroom, library, observatory and servants' quarters.

Before the Menears owned The Lawn, they rented the upper portion for two years in the mid-1970s and lived in an 1869 Presbyterian mansion in Honey Brook, Pa., a town south of Reading.

As a member of the Historic District Commission, Mrs. Menear said her goals are simple: "I just want to help preserve the historic architecture in Howard County."

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