Renovation project at City Hall polishes an architectural gem

Emerald Hill gets coat of white paint, other exterior repairs

September 13, 1999|By SHERIDAN LYONS | SHERIDAN LYONS,SUN STAFF

Emerald Hill will be repainted, repaired and its deteriorated wooden posts and porch replaced as part of a major exterior renovation of the white mansion that became Westminster's City Hall 60 years ago.

"In the past, it's simply been painted a number of times without a whole lot of other exterior work," said Thomas B. Beyard, city director of planning and public works.

Work began last week on the $50,000 second phase of the renovation, by the Patrick Construction Co., he said.

"This is probably the most significant exterior renovation by the city," he said.

"The city bought the building in 1939 and it's been City Hall ever since," he said of the house that's also known as the Longwell Mansion. The front porch, once a gathering place for receptions, has been off-limits because of the decay.

"It's the real front of the building, but we try to keep it locked," he said.

Temporary supports hold up the porch, Beyard said. Wood will be replaced at the base of the pillars, and in the porch deck; joists also will be repaired.The bricks will be re-mortared and sealed before being repainted. The wooden shutters are being repaired and replaced by local craftsmen at the Gaylord Brooks Cabinet & Mill Shop.

The first phase involved sprucing up Mathers Garden at the rear of the building, where boxwoods were relocated in mid-summer after years of hugging the mansion -- and holding in damaging moisture, Beyard said. In the final phase, to begin soon, a new sign will be erected at Longwell Avenue and Emerald Hill Lane.

The interior of the 19th-century Pennsylvania-style farmhouse has been modified over the years, for the Westminster Common Council chamber, the mayor's and other offices. The most recent work was done in 1991, Beyard said.

Exterior work has been limited to periodic repainting, he said.

"Now this project is purely renovation and rehabilitation of the exterior," he said.

Damian L. Halstad, Westminster Common Council president, recalled one winter day "about 18 months ago, walking around looking at the building with Tom [Beyard], and saying, `This really needs work,' with the paint flaking."

The council agreed and approved the work about six months later.

"These are the sorts of things where if you don't do the work when it's needed, you pay more later," said Halstad. "The structural integrity of the building can be jeopardized."

Author Christopher Weeks took an architectural inventory of the city's historic structures in "The Building of Westminster in Maryland." The book, published in 1978, featured City Hall on the cover and has been re-issued on a computer disc.

Weeks called the mansion "one of the two or three most important buildings in the city," not only for its mantels and other architectural details but for its owner, Col. John K. Longwell.

Citing an 1882 history of the city, Weeks said Longwell was a Gettysburg native who moved in 1832 to Taneytown -- then bigger than Westminster -- then to Westminster in 1833, where he established the Carrolltonian newspaper, which was dedicated to the creation of Carroll County with Westminster as its county seat. More than any other individual, Longwell was credited in the history with the creation of the county in 1837.

Longwell built Emerald Hill in 1842. He was elected to the state Senate in 1850 and in 1871 becamea county commissioner. Longwell also was a member of the 1867 State Constitutional Convention, Weeks noted.

He wrote the charter for the Western Maryland Railroad, was a director of Union National Bank, and was president of the Baltimore and Reisterstown Turnpike, a road built in 1805 that served as the main freight thoroughfare between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Longwell also was interested in education, serving on the county school board and Western Maryland College's first board of trustees, according to the histories. He helped found the Westminster English and Mathematical Academy in 1836, the West End Academy in 1858, and the Westminster Female Institute.

As for the mansion's marble mantels, Weeks noted they were built by another famous Carroll Countian: William Rinehart, who sculpted the main doors of the U.S. Capitol.

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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