Inquiry sought on farmhouse that may have historic value

March 06, 1995|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

State historical preservationists are calling for an investigation of the proposed site for two Howard County schools, saying the nearly 150-year-old farmhouse on the North Laurel property is significant to the county and to Maryland.

"There's a high potential for archaeological resources," said Lauren Bowlin, a preservation officer for the Maryland Historical Trust, a state agency in Crownsville.

School board members want to construct a middle school and elementary school on the 40-acre site. Two weeks ago, the school board approved the purchase of the property, but will not make the deal final until environmental and traffic studies are completed within two months.

Historical preservation laws cannot stop the construction of the schools on that site, Ms. Bowlin said.

But the county might qualify for preservation funds if the site -- on the west side of Gorman Road between Murray Hill Drive and Interstate 95 -- is determined to have historical value and the county does not tear down the house.

Susan Cook, chairwoman of the county school board, said the school system might consider a change in design plans to preserve the property, if that is possible.

"Right now the only thing we can do as a school system is wait for the investigation to be complete," Ms. Cook said.

"If it's something we have to deal with, we'll deal with it. But dealing with something may not mean stopping," she said.

The farmhouse, called the Victor Meyers House, could have been a summer home used by wealthy Washington and Baltimore families, a tenant farm or both, according to reports from the historical trust.

Built in the 1850s, the farmhouse is a mostly wood structure with six stately wooden columns, bay windows and wood floors.

Since the 1850s, the house has been bought and sold many times. Owners included Luther W. and Polk C. High, the two brothers who started the High's Dairies stores. They purchased the property in 1944 as a country estate and made several additions to the house, according to the historical trust.

In 1948, the house was bought by Louise Meyers and her husband, Victor, for whom the house was named.

The Rouse Co., which owns the property and leases it for a horse boarding and rescue facility, said the house is nothing but "an old farmhouse."

"That may be their perception," Ms. Bowlin said. "I don't know the validity of the information, but we're reviewing it and will be providing comments to the county."

Few argue with the need for new schools in the area, where schools are crowded and rely on portable classrooms to accommodate the overflow.

But residents near the proposed site have said the plans would ruin the rural character of their neighborhood.

They say the school system should adjust the proposal to protect the old house and maintain the character of Gorman Road, one of the county's designated scenic routes.

Construction of the two schools might require changes to Gorman Road -- a winding road -- for safety. That will be determined when the traffic study is complete.

Preservationists started their investigation of the property at the request of the state Clearinghouse for Government Assistance, which routinely makes such requests for sites proposed for government construction.

"The local citizens do have a legitimate concern that the county should look at this," Ms. Bowlin said.

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