A lease on Maryland history Lord Baltimore's home: The University of Maryland is urged to help preserve Kiplin Hall, built in 1620s by the first Lord Baltimore, by taking a long-term lease.

March 27, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

RICHMOND, England -- Tom Prime has a love-hate relationship with a rambling old English home named Kiplin Hall.

The library is stupendous. The single toilet hasn't worked in decades. The Dutch School portraits are valuable. The second-floor gallery could use a paint job.

And there are bits of history nearly everywhere. This glorious money pit with a pedigree can stake a claim as a birthplace of Maryland.

"Kiplin Hall is part of our heritage," the retired caretaker tells a visitor from Maryland. "And it's part of yours. It needs to be preserved."

Kiplin Hall was built in the 1620s by George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, who helped establish the colony that became Maryland.

Through a University of Maryland program in historic preservation, the house still has links with the state.

But the ties could soon be severed if the school doesn't sign a long-term lease to operate the site.

In England, there are plenty of drafty old homes that acquire a cult following among those intent on preserving the past.

A lot of the old homes are celebrated simply because of their age or old family ties.

Kiplin, though, is a true treasure, rated among the top 1 percent of historic houses and monuments in England and Wales.

There is something about Kiplin that grabs a visitor.

It's set in the rolling countryside of north Yorkshire, a place dotted with fields, stone farmhouses and medieval towns.

For a country home, Kiplin is a relatively simple affair of red brick, three stories tall, oblong shaped, topped by four towers crowned with Mr. Prime, a spry 82-year-old who sucks on a pipe and wears tweed coats to keep off the chill, stops by frequently to inspect the place and offer advice to the current caretaker, John Kirby.

The two make quite a team, discussing minor historic points as if they're swapping sports trivia, opening drapes and wiping dust from antiques such as a Chippendale documents cabinet.

"What happened to James I?" Mr. Prime says, finding a portrait of the English king lying on the floor. "Oh. He has been deposed."

"I'm responsible for all the stuff here," Mr. Kirby says. "If any of it disappears, I don't know what would happen to me."

Right now, Mr. Kirby struggles daily just to maintain the place.

"It's sad to see the place deteriorate," he says. "But it's good to know that I can have a hand in helping to clean it all up."

Others are pitching in. A landscaper works once a week in the gardens, bringing order to an estate that has been whittled down over the years from 20,000 acres to 130.

David Fogle, a University of Maryland architecture professor, putters about the place, trying to figure out what to restore next.

"Kiplin is like a lovable great-aunt," Mr. Fogle says. "It's sort of shabby, but it grabs you.

"The place is really unchanged. The landscape you look at is the same landscape that the first Lord Baltimore looked at."

Mr. Fogle talks about the Calverts and the other families who have occupied the home as if they are his friends.

George Calvert, a secretary of state to King James I and the first Lord Baltimore, was born on the estate lands and later built Kiplin Hall as a country retreat.

In 1625, Calvert reaffirmed his Roman Catholic faith, gave up his seat in Parliament and concentrated on colonizing vast swaths of America. King Charles I granted the Calvert family another American parcel in 1632, naming it Maryland after his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria.

A year later, some 200 people, mainly from the Yorkshire countryside that surrounds Kiplin, boarded the schooners Ark and Dove and set sail for Maryland.

Kiplin Hall remained in the hands of the Calverts for five generations, before being passed about once a century from families named Crowe, Carpenter and Talbot. Finally, in 1971, the house was maintained as a trust after the death of the last private owner, Bridget Talbot.

Since 1987, University of Maryland architecture students have spent summers at Kiplin Hall engaged in a historic preservation program.

The current five-year lease between the school and the home's trustees expires in August, and negotiations are under way.

Mr. Fogle says the trustees are looking for a long-term tenant, offering a lease on the entire estate for at least 75 years.

That's a difficult commitment for any university to undertake in an era of tight budgets.

To restore Kiplin Hall could take hundreds of thousands of dollars spread over years.

But those at the manor are convinced that the house should be returned to its former glory.

And they want the University of Maryland to take the plunge. After all, the university's roots are connected with the Calverts.

The school sits on land that was part of the Riverdale Plantation of the Calvert family.

A direct descendant of the first Lord Baltimore, Charles Benedict Calvert, was a founder and early president of the Maryland Agricultural College, predecessor to the University of Maryland.

The late Leonard Crewe Jr., a past president of the Maryland Historical Society and Kiplin trustee, rediscovered the Kiplin site for Marylanders back in the 1950s. He financed site improvements, including converting the former stable area into accommodations for Maryland students.

"We don't have the solution yet," says the university's president, Dr. William E. Kirwan. "We understand the problem.

"I'm willing to invest time and energy to find means to support this. But we're not willing to support this out of the state budget."

So far, plans for Kiplin Hall are still in the talking stage. Maybe they'll turn the estate into a corporate retreat. Perhaps other colleges could join Maryland in a broader preservation effort.

How will it all turn out?

"We'll tell you in a hundred years' time," Mr. Prime says.

"I won't be here then," Mr. Kirby says. "But there will be someone around with a paintbrush."

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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