Group fears loss of history

Preservationists oppose gas station near Waverly estate

Howards owned mansion


About a dozen miles from Columbia's fast-growing villages and shopping centers is Waverly, an isolated, 243-year-old mansion that represents Howard County's earliest days.

Area residents have fought for 30 years to preserve the house that Gov. John Eager Howard (1788-1790) -- for whom the county is named -- gave to his son George (who was governor 1831-1833) as a wedding present. A new threat exists: a proposed Exxon station next door. The developer calls it the inevitable result of growth spreading throughout the county. Residents say it would destroy the home's setting.

The residents' dedication to Waverly Historic Mansion marks another chapter in its history, one that includes about 20 Howard County residents who prevented the home's demolition in 1979 and then pushed for its restoration. Now they're fighting development.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun, misleading caption information was written for a photograph of Waverly Historic Mansion near Marriottsville Road. The picture above shows the mansion in the early 1970s. Yesterday's caption incorrectly suggested the picture was taken recently. A current photo of the mansion is below. The Sun regrets the error.

On April 21, many in that group converged again -- not at the mansion, but at a Board of Appeals hearing at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City -- to oppose the gas station.

The next hearing is July 6 and both sides are discussing alternatives, said David A. Carney, an attorney representing the developer.

"We just don't think the lights and the noise are compatible with the mansion," said C. Edward Walter, president of Historic Waverly Inc., a group spearheading the opposition. "It is home of the state's only father-son governors, and the last historic home in Howard County."

The volunteers -- many longtime residents living near the mansion -- first became interested in the home in 1964, when Larry Realty Co. bought the 289 acres around the abandoned mansion, including the 3.4 acres the house sits on.

Many worried the company would tear down the house, but 10 years later the company agreed to give the land that includes the house to the Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, now called Preservation Maryland.

"It was deserted," said Edwin Gramkow, a Glenwood resident who has been part of the restoration effort since the 1970s. "But we felt it had potential."

The stucco mansion was surrounded by weeds and its exterior was damaged. Inside, water and time had taken their toll. Those who had "saved" the historic structure began to wonder, "Now that we had it, what were we going to do with it?" said Gramkow, an SPMA member at the time.

Local garden groups were the first to go to the rescue in late 1976, volunteering their time and greenery to the house. During the holiday season, the volunteers designed and sold wreaths at the mansion.

"We raised $1,500 dollars in the first three hours," Gramkow said.

Then-state Sen. President James Clark Jr. -- a lifelong Howard County resident -- took the local campaign to Annapolis. He sponsored legislation that led to a $150,000 grant from the state in 1978.

"It happens all the time. Historic buildings are forgotten about," Clark said. "I have always known about [Waverly], and we knew its historic value."

By 1979, the exterior restoration began.

The house was repainted. The rusted tin roof was replaced with cedar shakes, and wood support beams were replaced with metal.

By 1981, the interior restoration was finished, bringing the total cost of restoring the facility to $316,000.

Then came furnishing the home with pieces from its original era, and again volunteers -- many private and historic society members -- gave or sold items to the house, including portraits of the Howards.

Visitors can now see fainting couches for women, wig rooms for men and 10 fireplaces throughout the mansion.

Since September 1989 the county has owned the house, and it has been used for meetings, weddings and tours.

Virginia Leache, the curator at the mansion for the past 10 years, tries to help visitors imagine what each room was used for, even though some have been updated.

Two small rooms in the back are now bathrooms. Leache thinks their location and size suggest their original purpose was very different. "The farmers' families used them as bedrooms," she said.

Sheila Connor Nevius, 36, of Fort Meade said she fell in love with the sitting room where the Howards entertained visitors. She decided this would be the site of her wedding.

"I love history, and I can't wait to wear my wedding dress here," Nevius said the day before the ceremony.

The volunteers already have plans for what they will do if the gas station is built.

"We will plant trees around the mansion," Gramkow said.

Pub Date: 6/21/99

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