Hayfields project foes call for study Preservationists urge county to assess farm's historic value

Called key Civil War site

Developers' attorney says issue already has been considered

August 26, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Preservationist reinforcements have joined the "Second Battle of Hayfields," but whether they are in time to block development of the historic northern Baltimore County estate as a golf course and country club community remains to be seen.

Respected Civil War historians, led by Pulitzer Prize-winner James M. McPherson of Princeton University, say the Hayfields farm is the county's most important Civil War site. They are urging the county to order a full historic-impact assessment.

The Board of Appeals, which has approved a zoning exception for the country club in a rural conservation area, is considering changes in the development plan, including expanding the golf course from 228 to 276 acres of the 475-acre tract.

The farm is located at Shawan Road and Interstate 83, a site which some call "the Gateway to the Valleys," a cornerstone of the county's agricultural preservation area.

"I urge you to authorize a thorough study of the historical importance of Hayfields and to take steps to protect its integrity as an important Civil War site," said McPherson, author of 10 Civil War books and a Johns Hopkins alumnus whose "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for history.

The reinforcements are welcome, said people's counsel Peter Max Zimmerman, but they have arrived "very late in the game" -- even though much legal skirmishing remains, including multiple appeals and changes in the master water-sewer plan, which could prolong the approval process for several more years.

G. Scott Barhight, lawyer for the developers, the Mangione family, said the historic issues have been discussed extensively. "The Civil War history has been detailed over the years. The historic events have been at the center of this issue for years."

The "First Battle of Hayfields" erupted when the Hammerman Organization bought the farm and in 1979 proposed a 1,600-house development. Fierce opposition appeared in a "Save the Valleys" campaign that led county officials to twice deny changes in the restrictive rural zoning. Nicholas B. Mangione bought the estate in 1986 in the dissolution of the Hammerman firm.

A century before, Hayfields' role in the Civil War began in April 1861, when Union troops from Pennsylvania, heading for Baltimore because of the Pratt Street riots -- the mob attack on Massachusetts troops passing through -- stopped in the area because the rail bridges were burned.

John Merryman of Hayfields, the owner, was a first lieutenant in the Maryland Horse Guards, which was ordered into the city and then sent back to Hayfields to meet the Union officers.

According to J. Thomas Scharf's 1881 history of Baltimore city and county, Merryman offered any assistance, even to slaughter his own cattle to feed the men, to help the Federal troops return north. If they had marched into Baltimore, it was feared it would precipitate renewed violence and bloodshed.

Three years later, in the summer of 1864, Hayfields became important again, historians say, when the Confederate troops of Gens. Jubal Early and Bradley T. Johnson, a Frederick native, moved in to assault Baltimore and Washington and free Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout.

The Confederates bivouacked at the farm while Maj. Harry Gilmor's cavalry raided the county, burning railroad bridges and cutting telegraph wires.

The plan, however, was abandoned when Union reinforcements reached Baltimore and Washington.

"The Merryman Farm is a Civil War site more important than any other in Baltimore County today. It was a center of the Confederate movement in Maryland and also for the Federal countermovement to keep the state in the Union," said David H. Fischer, a Hopkins alumnus and history professor at Brandeis University.

Zimmerman said that the Merryman story and Gilmor's raiding are well known, but that he is not aware of any detailed discussion about military action around Hayfields as the case has proceeded. Several of the historians urged public purchase of the property for a historical park, but that would be prohibitively expensive at this time of budget constraints at all levels of government.

John Mangione, who heads the project for his family, said it would take about $11 million to buy the tract; his father, Nicholas, paid between $4 million and $5 million in 1986. The state and county paid $8 million in 1994 for the 367-acre Cromwell Valley Park "and we have 475 acres," John Mangione said recently.

"My family is keenly aware of the local significance of the Hayfields property," Mangione added. "Our hope is that our adaptive reuse of the structures will bring some real vitality and vibrance to the property, and we hope to honor its history within the mansion."

The three-story fieldstone mansion is to be converted into the clubhouse and a restaurant, which will be open to the public. The old slave quarters are to be the pro shop.

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