Sale can save farmhouse Property: A developer plans to destroy a Cockeysville farmhouse if no one buys it, but preservationists think Willowbrook is worth saving.

February 05, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

George Washington never slept there. But preservationists still think Willowbrook -- a Cockeysville farmhouse that represents a vanishing way of life in Baltimore County -- is worth saving.

They fear that the dilapidated 1850 clapboard home on Warren Road east of York Road will be bulldozed soon if a buyer is not found. A six-month agreement between the Maryland Historical Trust and the developer, Southern Land Co. Inc., to market the house expires tomorrow.

After that, the company, which subdivided the surrounding 33 acres into 45 single-family lots, plans to destroy the house, erasing its historical imprint from the landscape.

"It's part of Baltimore County's heritage," said Beth Hannold, a preservation officer with the Maryland Historical Trust. "It's part of the nature of that area -- rural farming. That definitely is a loss."

Increasingly, the county must grapple with ways to save historic properties, such as Hayfields in Hunt Valley, Aigburth Vale in Towson and Balmuckety mansion in Pikesville.

Area residents or preservationists have fought to save those properties, which had fallen into disrepair or were targeted for development. A high-profile example was the 1767 Samuel Owings house in Owings Mills, which was razed last year to make way for offices, before preservationists could rally to save it.

Protecting the 2 1/2 -story Willowbrook is important because of its vernacular style and noted architect, James S. Nussear Jr. of Timonium, Hannold said.

Described as an eclectic blend of rural, folk-Germanic architecture with early 20th-century, classical revival elements, Willowbrook was built in two stages, with Nussear designing the addition, according to a historical trust evaluation noting the home's eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

After purchasing the land for redevelopment, Ronald O. Schaftel, president of Cockeysville-based Southern Land, said he realized the importance of the white house with green shutters -- despite its ramshackle condition.

"We recognized we had a historical structure on the property," he said of the house, perched on a half-acre elevated parcel with a sweeping view of Cockeysville and Towson. "We decided to do everything we could to save it."

Schaftel said he began advertising the house in preservation magazines and on the Internet after approaching the historical trust, which encouraged its sale.

Six prospective buyers responded but none followed through with a purchase, he said.

And though the $179,000 purchase price seems reasonable for a prime piece of real estate with access to public water and sewer, the downside is the cost of renovation, a condition of the contract. Schaftel estimates restoration of the five-bedroom, 1 1/2 -bath house could cost $200,000.

"But I always encourage people to make an offer. The price is negotiable," he said. "We're attempting to find a buyer for it and bring it into the 21st century."

Little is known about the history of the house or its owners, said John McGrain, a county historian. "It was hidden in the shrubbery for years," he said.

What has been learned through county maps and deeds is that Frances D. T. Taylor owned the only house on Warren Road in 1850, where the existing house is today.

If salvaged, the house with three porches and two parlors would stand amid single-family homes being built by Pulte Home Corp. and selling for $250,000 to $300,000.

"It needs substantial renovation," acknowledged Hannold. "But it's in a great location. If rehabbed, it will be a centerpiece."

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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