Activists trying to save historic buildings in Howard County are taking a lesson from David Letterman.
They will announce tonight the formation of a "Top 10 Endangered Sites List" that they hope will bring attention to significant properties that could fall victim to deterioration, demolition or development.
Preservation Howard County's list - unlike the one popularized by the late-night host - is not a joke. Members say the county's aging houses, cemeteries, roads and other historic resources are disappearing as the area grows.
The county's Historic Sites Inventory - which isn't up to date - lists 636 properties, said Mary Catherine Cochran, project coordinator for Preservation Howard County. She said dozens of buildings on the inventory may no longer exist.
But she believes public sentiment is shifting in preservationists' favor. Elected officials seem interested in the heritage cause, she said.
"Momentum is building ... to preserve the bits and pieces of our past," said Cochran, an Ellicott City resident. "I really have confidence that just highlighting the properties that the preservation community feels are most endangered will be enough" to prompt county officials and residents to act.
"It's also a great way to gather information about historic resources, whether or not they make the list," she added.
Preservation Howard County, a new group whose stated mission is to save the area's "historical soul," will meet with the public at 5 tonight at Historic Waverly Mansion in Woodstock to begin taking nominations for the list. The group considers the historic house, at 2335 Warwick Way, an example of successful preservation.
Group members expect to announce the chosen sites in May during national Preservation Week. More than 10 names could be on the list, said Paul Bridge, a Preservation Howard County board member who is coordinating the efforts.
"We're asking the public to tell us what they think is the most endangered ... because we're going to ask the public to do something about it," Bridge said. "We want to get the people involved. Otherwise, it won't be successful."
One of the first such lists was started in 1988 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which keeps track of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places."
Last year, Baltimore's west side made the list because city officials planned to tear down 150 historic buildings there, said Patricia O'Connell, assistant director of communications with the trust. The buildings remain standing.
Only one site on the list - a hotel in Nevada - has ever been lost, she said.
Mary McCarthy, executive director of the Frederick County Landmarks Foundation, said Frederick and Montgomery are the only counties in Maryland with lists.
"It's a very powerful tool," said McCarthy, who added that five of the 11 properties on her group's register last year have been saved. "It's like a to-do list for a preservation organization. It's also a reality check for the public, ... a way to say, `This is what we're losing.'"
To request an endangered list nomination form: Mary Catherine Cochran, 410-465-5307, or e-mail her at email@example.com.