Group to sell historic house

Lack of visitors, need for space prompt society's action

March 19, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Historical Society of Carroll County is taking an unusual step to secure more space for displaying its collection of local artifacts: It plans to sell one of the largest artifacts, an 18th-century Union Bridge house listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The society's members and guests will be the first to have the chance to buy the 11-room brick dwelling known as Hard Lodging at an open house at the property from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. today. The asking price is $550,000, which the society hopes to use to buy property in Westminster.

Douglas P. Velnoskey of Finksburg, the society's president and a vice president at the investment firm Legg Mason Inc, said, "If we could find someone in Carroll County to be the new owner, that would be nice, rather than someone from New York or D. C."

The property includes Hard Lodging, along with a 20th-century rancher built for the caretaker, plus 39 acres of woods and meadows on Little Pipe Creek, where textile and sawmills stood beginning in the late 18th century. A circular driveway passes a stone swimming pool, a wooden bath house, a frog pond, a gazebo and the foundations of a barn built in 1800 that burned in 1994.

Built about 1790, Hard Lodging was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and has twice been on the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, said Jay A. Graybeal, the society's director.

From the front, Hard Lodging looks formidable in its stern high-Federal style -- towering above Ladiesburg Road on a 50-foot cliff.

But entering it from the rear as a breeze bangs the screen door, it is strikingly warm, with sunny rooms of antiques.

Hard Lodging's 2 1/2 stories include four bedrooms, three baths, a finished attic and a cellar where bare rock from the outcrop extends inside as part of the floor and boards cut at the old sawmill form a wall.

Solomon Shepherd, the son of Scots-Irish immigrants, built the house in the 1790s for his bride, Susanna Farquhar. It became known as Rock Hall and also as Shepherd's Folly, because it was built on the hill exposed to wind. "It's sort of like a New England mill owner might build," Graybeal said.

The house was renamed Hard Lodging in 1941 by its last owner, Thelma Walden Littlefield Shriner, who gave it to the society in 1983.

Touring the house last week, Graybeal pointed out the pierced stair end brackets and the sophisticated brickwork, features more typical of an urban dwelling. George Washington never visited, and the house lacks a resident ghost, but it maintains an august air because of its towering place on the rock.

But the society says the house fails to attract enough visitors to justify keeping it.

"House museums as a trend in museum-going is a declining trend," Graybeal said. "The board, in looking at what we offer to the public, decided that Hard Lodging just didn't work for us."

"The thing about house museums is, if it's George Washington's house, there's a continuing interest, but to see a house because it's interesting architecturally -- other than seeing it decorated at Christmas -- it doesn't change," Velnoskey said. "When you have real property, there are costs in maintaining the house and grounds, as well. Costs outpace income by far, except where a there's a stream of visitors every day like Mount Vernon.

"It seems a shame for us to have something and be so underutilized, only open five or six times a year. But it's not realistic that the property would be open all year when not that many people go down Ladiesburg Road."

Regardless of the buyer, Hard Lodging will be placed in a historic easement deeded to the Maryland Historic Trust, Graybeal said. Its furnishings -- about a thousand items, including furniture, clocks, trunks, rifles, spinning wheels, glass pitchers and silver -- will go into the society's collection, along with books, portraits and deeds from the 18th century found in a Chippendale desk.

Most of those objects were placed there by Shriner, a society supporter who died in 1994 and bequeathed the furnishings to the society.

"She had seen it as a child when she rode on a train that passed by to school, and as a teen-ager she said `I'm going to buy that house one day and save it,' " said Graybeal. She was a granddaughter of the 19th-century horseman Wyndham Walden of Bowling Brook, whose horses won a record seven Preakness races. Portraits of two favored horses hang in the library, destined for the society collection.

Shriner studied architecture after she bought the house, then both restored and altered it during the 1950s -- although she never lived there. She added a wing with a library and sun room, where she slept when she visited, and closets, shelves and cupboards.

"Hard Lodging was and is a nice property, but it's relatively remote and not really in keeping with what we want to do," Velnoskey said. "We want to be able to exhibit some of our 100,000 objects," including Shriner's collection, he said.

"The historical easement will protect the house as it is; the value of it will help the society [with] more of our collection to be available for public viewing, especially school children and younger people."

Hard Lodging, he said, "really needs an owner who would love it and keep it preserved."

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