DNR plans to purchase historic farm Edgemere homestead would become an educational site

House listed at $295,000

Todd's Inheritance used as lookout point during War of 1812

October 26, 1997|By SUZANNE LOUDERMILK | SUZANNE LOUDERMILK,SUN STAFF

State officials and a Baltimore County group are forging a rescue plan for historic Todd's Inheritance, an Edgemere farm that was a lookout point during the War of 1812.

Their proposal, to develop an educational and interpretive site, would end months of uncertainty triggered by the death of the property's owner last year.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is seeking to buy the deteriorating farm house and 4.5-acre property, which was farmed by the same family for almost 300 years.

The acquisition, subject to the approval of the state Board of Public Works, would be tied to a long-term lease with the Eastern Baltimore Area Community Development Corp., a nonprofit group planning to renovate and maintain the property.

"We see this as an opportunity to save a historic property," said Ross Kimmel, supervisor of cultural resources management for DNR's Forest and Park Service.

Today, the white, gabled farmhouse sits forlornly along North Point Road. The windows and doors are boarded. The brick foundation is crumbling. Gardens, with a few bright mums, are overgrown with pokeberries.

But the appearance of the house belies its place in history.

The Todd house played a pivotal role during the two-day Battle of North Point in 1814 when 4,000 British troops, triumphant after burning the capital in Washington, landed near what is now Fort Howard and marched toward Baltimore.

According to Todd legend, lookouts at the homestead on the Patapsco Neck peninsula alerted Maryland militiamen, who confronted the British soldiers while the city fortified Hampstead Hill, now Patterson Park in East Baltimore.

Britain's casualties at North Point, and Fort McHenry's refusal to surrender under naval bombardment Sept. 13, saved Baltimore and helped persuade England to sign a peace treaty at Ghent in 1814.

But, during the battle, the British burned the Todd house, supposedly in retaliation. It was eventually rebuilt.

According to real estate agent Bill Mayer -- who listed the seven-bedroom, ramshackle house for $295,000 after the death of owner Elmer H. Cook Jr. last year -- DNR submitted a contract to buy the house this month. He did not disclose the price of the offer.

DNR, which would buy the house with money designated for the preservation of natural, scenic and cultural resources, is scheduled to meet with the development group next month to work out the lease.

"We don't have money to do the restoring ourselves," Kimmel said.

The once-sprawling farm was occupied by the Todd family from 1664 until the 1970s when Cook bought the house overlooking Shallow Creek. Through Cook's efforts, the property, once a tobacco farm, was included in the National Register of Historic Places and the Baltimore County Historic Landmarks list.

The house, which became known as Todd's Inheritance, was rebuilt after the War of 1812 in two parts -- brick and wood.

Reports have indicated the brick house was erected in 1816 to replace the original. But research by archaeologist Kathy Lee Erlandson Liston, which is being released next week in the fall issue of the Journal of the War of 1812, shows a later construction.

Through tax records, she determined the wooden part of the house probably was built around 1833, while the main brick house likely was erected around 1841.

To attorney John B. Gontrum, president of the Eastern Baltimore Area Community Development Corp., the dispute over construction dates doesn't affect the property's historical significance.

"It's not just an old house," he said. "The fact that it was in the same family for several hundred years and is connected to the War of 1812 makes it unique to the area and to Baltimore County."

Judith Kremen, executive director of the Baltimore County Historical Trust, agrees -- although she acknowledges that the new data sets the historical record straight.

"Does it impact the fate of the house? Probably not. But over time, there has been a lot of misinformation," she said.

A. Morris Todd, 75, an 11th-generation family member who lives in Towson and once farmed on the property, said the family is "delighted" that the house, and the rest of the property, including the family cemetery, is being saved. "Anything is better than it falling down."

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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