Douglass cottage termed ideal site for study center

March 06, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

The Highland Beach Historical Commission wants to turn Frederick Douglass' summer cottage on the Chesapeake Bay into an archive for the study of Maryland's first private black town.

But the $600,000 price tag is too steep.

The organization wants the state to put up half. The rest would come from corporate and individual sponsors, foundation grants and, if necessary, loans.

"[The cottage] is the most significant piece of property in our community," said Raymond L. Langston, co-chairman of the organization.

The home is on the National Register of Historic Places. For the people of Highland Beach, a summer retreat about four miles south of Annapolis, buying the cottage this year would be an especially fitting way to commemorate the centennial of Douglass' death.

"It makes a lot of sense to make a transfer of this house to commemorate this," said Charles H. "Chip" Bohl, the architect who restored the cottage.

Mr. Bohl and his wife, Barbara, live in the house. Today, they will meet with state Del. Michael E. Busch, the Annapolis Democrat who chairs the House Economic Matters Committee, to find out what it will take to get the state to help finance the historical commission's purchase.

Douglass' son, Charles, and daughter-in-law Laura founded Highland Beach in 1893 as a summer sanctuary where African-American families and their friends could gather without fear of racial prejudice.

The town was incorporated in 1922. Most of its homes are still owned by descendants of the original owners. Some have turned the homes into year-round residences.

Though the cottage is known as Frederick Douglass' summer home, the abolitionist and statesman never lived there. He did help design the cottage, though.

The Bohls bought the house, located where the Blackwalnut Creek winds into the Chesapeake Bay, from the Douglass family in 1986 for $70,000. It was in such sad shape that the roof of the first-floor porch collapsed soon after the Bohls took possession.

They put about $100,000 into restoration. That doesn't include Mr. Bohl's work. He numbered each board of siding, designed a modern kitchen and supervised 1 1/2 years of renovation.

They had to raise the cottage four feet to remove it from the flood plain. It now sits on a knoll of fill dirt. They scraped paint to find the original colors, re-created the khaki-tinted sand exterior with windows trimmed in maroon and forest green. The interior has the original pine paneling. Yet, it remains a hard place to sell.

The home has been on and off the real estate market for about three years at an asking price of about $600,000. The state assessed it at $231,630 last year.

Historic value, said J. Rodney Little, the state's assistant secretary for historical and cultural programs, "is in the eye of the beholder." The state does not appraise for historic value unless it is buying the property.

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