Sotterley Plantation in danger Museum: Named one of "America's 11 most endangered historic places," the 18th-century Sotterley Plantation in St. Mary's County is seeking funds for much-needed repairs.

Urban Landscape

June 27, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

SOTTERLEY Plantation, a nonprofit museum in St. Mary's County that was forced to cut back its visiting hours for lack of funds, has been named one of "America's 11 most endangered historic places."

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which included the property on its annual list of sites considered "at risk" of disappearing, says the attraction cannot survive if it doesn't raise funds for much-needed repairs.

"The descendant of a slave and the descendant of the man who owned that slave are working together to preserve the site and keep it open to the public," said trust President Richard Moe. "But without new sources of ongoing financial support, this national treasure may no longer be able to teach important lessons."

Established about 1710, Sotterley Plantation was a self-sufficient plantation, a Colonial port of entry and a key contributor to the economy of southern Maryland.

Its 1717 manor house is a premier example of Tidewater architecture. Its customs warehouse is a rare 18th-century rural commercial building, and its slave cabin is one of the most accessible examples of its kind in the state.

Located on Route 245, just off Route 235 in Hollywood, Sotterley has been operated since 1961 by a private, nonprofit group that offers tours, learning programs for children and other activities. Last year, about 12,000 visited the former home of a string of Maryland's elite, including an early governor.

As with many other historic sites, however, years of inadequate funding and deferred maintenance have left the manor house and outbuildings in need of extensive repairs.

The trustees of Sotterley Plantation were forced to close the property to visitors in December, saying they needed $1.2 million to fix the roof of the manor house and complete other work that would make the property safe for visitors.

This spring, the trustees reopened the property on a limited basis, offering tours by appointment only and prohibiting public access to the second floor of the manor house. Although they have received several grants, they still need more than $1 million to correct all the problems.

Overlooking the Patuxent River, the manor house is still attractive on the outside. But there is a lot of "behind-the-walls structural damage, termite damage" that makes it unsound, said Carolyn Laray, executive director of the Sotterley Mansion Foundation, the group that operates the property.

"If you look closely, you can see undulating ripples in the roof" that indicate warping of the structure, she said. "It's getting to the point that these problems aren't going to be hidden much longer. They need to be addressed. It's a critical situation for Sotterley at this point."

The National Trust has issued its "endangered places" list since 1988 to call attention to buildings and sites that are threatened. Other places on the 1996 list include the Uptown Theatre in Chicago, the Harry S Truman Historic District in Independence, Mo., and "the historic black churches of the south."

Laray said she hopes that the listing will make people aware of the plantation and the challenges it faces. "It places Sotterley in a national context and gives it some validation -- that if it's lost, it will be missed, a piece of our national heritage will be gone."

A large part of the problem with Sotterley is that it has no endowment for maintenance, Laray said. "Sotterley is hit with a double whammy, which is that there are significantly high restoration costs, and if they aren't addressed, you have to close the site. There was no mechanism set up to fund Sotterley."

The trustees recently received a $5,000 grant from Preservation Maryland to stabilize the manor house. The General Assembly also passed a state bond bill that provides $80,000 for repairs, and that amount has been matched by private donations.

Laray said the money will be used to stabilize the most deteriorated portions of the manor house's roof. She said the foundation is still trying to raise the rest of the money for repairs.

She said that the cost of repairing all the structures will be about $2 million and that the foundation may seek more money from the General Assembly. Board members didn't know the full cost of the repairs when they first sought funds several years ago, she said.

"We'll be exploring every possibility," she said.

In the meantime, the grounds are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Monday. The admission fee is $2. The manor house is open by appointment at a cost of $7, with children under 12 admitted free. Tours generally are held on Friday and Saturday, starting at 10: 30 a.m.

Information: 301-373-2280.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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