House used in `Witch' due to be demolished

Residents say building may have historic import

November 25, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

A ramshackle house that was the scene of the chilling climax of "The Blair Witch Project" is about to be razed, angering western Baltimore County residents who say the building's significance extends beyond the silver screen.

The Griggs House, a two-story, gabled dwelling where the hit horror film's protagonists meet their end, is a nuisance and a hazard, according to officials with the state Department of Natural Resources who have ordered it destroyed.

But residents of Granite oppose the demolition, saying the 19th-century house may have played an important role in the community's history.

In recent months, scores of the movie's fans have flocked to the house, tucked in Patapsco State Park off Hernwood Road, parking on neighbors' lawns and prompting calls to police.

State officials made the decision to tear down the house several years ago, said Susan O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources.

" `Blair Witch' has nothing to do with the value of the property as far as the park staff is concerned," she said.

Although many old houses in the park are leased to tenants, DNR officials decided that the Griggs House is too dilapidated and inaccessible to rent, O'Brien said. The house has long been vandalized. More recently, movie fans have carted off pieces of the building as souvenirs.

The Maryland Historical Trust, which placed the Griggs House on its inventory of potentially historic properties 20 years ago, listed it as an "application of Federal-style architecture characteristics to regional farmhouse construction." But trust officials who reviewed the DNR's petition to demolish the building did not find the dwelling significant.

Beverly Griffith, a member of the Granite Historical Society, argues that more research is needed to determine if the house played an important role in the history of the quarry community.

"It has been there forever, but there has never been anything known about it," she said.

She disputed the state's assessment that the house, which lies just outside the Granite National Historic District, is in poor shape. "It's in cosmetically bad shape," she said. "But it is structurally sound."

Until a few years ago, the Griggs House was known only to local residents.

"It was spooky when I was a kid," said Chris Costello, 17, who lives nearby.

Film crews looking for a suitable house to feature in a movie about students who go looking for a witch and find more than they bargained for eventually came on the scene.

O'Brien said park officials recommended the Griggs House, which was due for demolition.

The movie made the Griggs House a star, and fans descended on Granite to see the house. Park rangers have spent more than 100 hours chasing fans away from the building, O'Brien said.

James Farmer, who leads the Greater Patapsco Community Association Citizens on Patrol, said the curious were mainly teen-agers trying to get a glimpse of the house. Most of the attention came during the summer and for a few days around Halloween, and has since subsided, he said.

"I don't consider people parking on people's yards to be a big problem," Farmer said. "I do not like to see anything that is historical be removed."

Costello, who said it is "weird" living next to the Blair Witch house, would prefer to see it demolished. "I think it would be better off if it were torn down," he said. "It's not very safe."

Although the demolition contract has been awarded, O'Brien said the house will not be torn down before Dec. 1. If residents can find evidence of historic significance, the state might spare the house, she said.

"If there's new information, the park system will take another look," she said

Pub Date: 11/25/99

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