County OKs buying farm near agricultural center

Use for 104-acre site not decided

purchase averts development

July 09, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

It's never too early to dream.

In 1964, the parting advice of the beloved Landon C. Burns when he retired as a longtime Carroll County extension agent was that if the Gesell farm behind the Carroll County Agricultural Center ever came up for sale, the county commissioners should buy it before some developer snapped it up for housing.

His dream came true: Last week, the commissioners followed his advice and voted to buy the 104-acre farm on Ridge Road (Route 27) for $600,000. No specific use has been determined for the land, but leaders in the farm community have long supported the purchase, which will be final in two months.

Burns died in 1966, but many people are around who are glad the agricultural center has some "elbow room," said Edmund C. "Ned" Cueman of Westminster.

"The county has certainly done the right thing in acquiring this ground," said Cueman, a lifetime member of the center, former 4-H father and former director of planning for the county.

Cueman dreams of a public-private effort to build an agricultural education center that would have ties to Carroll Community College and include scientific research and demonstrations.

Jennifer Reynolds, a 4-H assistant with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, dreams of horse trails and more space to accommodate the growing number of youths joining 4-H.

And Robert L. Jones, a retired extension agent, hopes to see expansion of the center and the Carroll County Farm Museum, but not too much.

"Some of it, particularly with the topography of the land, should stay as open space," said Jones. From outside the extension offices, he could look out on the farm. "I always thought of it as a pretty space over the hill where the farm buildings are."

The farm could provide the center and farm museum with another entrance from Route 27, rather than the Smith Avenue and Center Street routes that wind through residential neighborhoods.

"The possibilities are unlimited," Cueman said, as long as they are connected to farming.

"Any crazy ideas about putting a high school or other stuff back there, the ideas can be brought up, but some of these things need to be ruled out," Cueman said.

The agricultural center is bursting at the seams, so much so that if the number of youths joining 4-H grows any larger, program assistant Jennifer Reynolds wonders where she'll put them. Carroll 4-H clubs have a membership of 1,184.

"The number of kids with animal projects is just growing and growing and growing," said Reynolds, who supervises 4-H at the Maryland Cooperative Extension office, which is in the center.

"Even with the new buildings going up, we have to limit the kids on what they bring to the fair," she said.

Adults use the center for meetings, educational programs and private events that pay rent.

The agricultural center is expected to break ground by the end of the summer on a $3.4 million expansion, funded by a combination of private fund raising and state grants. The board of the private, nonprofit organization includes representatives from farm-related clubs and groups in the county.

The expansion is not going to meet the center's need for space, officials say, although it will be built in a way that will allow continued expansion.

Besides additional indoor space for activities and to rent out to shows as a way of raising revenue, the center needs more outdoor space for horseback riding and jumping, Reynolds said.

"It might be nice to have a cross-country course and jumps," she said. "Now, we just sort of make one up when we need one."

It would also be nice, Reynolds said, to be able to set up horse trails and courses that could be permanent. Space is so limited now that if a tractor pull is held at the center, the vehicles use the same course set up for horses. Before riders can use it again, it has to be regraded.

At the center's biggest event of the year -- the Carroll County 4-H Fair -- space is cramped for hogs, which are an increasingly popular animal project because they're easier and cheaper to raise than other livestock, and for beef cattle, which need an enclosed space rather than the open tent they now occupy.

The farm is owned by the estate of Margaret Gesell, who died last year. Her husband, John Francis Gesell, died in 1988, said one of their sons, Carroll Gesell, who raises some beef cattle on the farm.

When the family started farming there in the 1940s, Gesell said, Winchester Park, a neighborhood of moderate to expensive homes, was nothing but a hayfield. The agricultural center was built in the 1950s, when Burns and others in the farm community brought volunteers together to erect the buildings.

"The ag center looked like it was back in an isolated area at the time," Jones said. But Burns could envision that housing development would creep in.

In the 1960s, Winchester Park sprouted in what was once Russell Law's hayfield. Carroll County General Hospital went up on the other side of the farm museum. Other homes popped up to the east along Route 32.

And until last week, many people -- Carroll Gesell included -- had feared that a crop of houses would replace the pastures of the Gesell farm if the county didn't buy it.

"I wouldn't like to see that," Gesell said. "I like to see fields. It's been home to me for 50 years."

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