When the house itself is free to a good home

Clarksville Victorian to be given to person who can relocate it

January 02, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Historic preservationists in Howard County have a great deal to offer prospective homebuyers: a large 100-year-old Victorian house with all the trimmings, free for the taking.

There's only one catch. If you want the three-story house, you'll have to take it with you.

Located at the junction of Routes 108 and 32 in Clarksville, the house is slated for demolition in the coming months to make room for an Amoco gas station. In one of the most striking episodes of Howard County's rapid development push, preservationists are desperately trying to find someone with the money and land needed to spirit the house to safety in time.

"As far as we know, George Washington didn't sleep there," said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County. "But it's still a beautiful house with high ceilings, and it would be great for someone who could use it."

The beautiful house with a broad front porch and high-peaked roof is at one of Howard County's fastest-growing crossroads, surrounded by gas stations, car dealerships and shopping centers.

It was hardly a surprise, then, when its owners, a group of local investors, recently consigned it to likely demolition by tentatively agreeing to sell it to Amoco. Preservationists realized that it was unrealistic to try to save the house at its current site, so they took the unorthodox approach of searching for someone willing to move the house to a different location.

Complicated but economical

It's not an easy sell. Moving the house is estimated to cost from $30,000 to $50,000, depending on the distance to its destination. Every set of power lines that would have to be taken down to make way for the house would cost the new owner about $1,000.

Because the house is large, it likely would have to be broken into at least two sections to be moved, said M. Steven Appler of Goodier Builders, which briefly considered taking on the project. If someone owned a large enough lot within 100 yards or so, he added, the house could be dragged there in one piece.

The house also would need indoor renovations before it could be used as residence because it has been used for years as office space for dentists, insurance agents and local elected officials.

According to Cochran, though, moving and renovating it would be well worth the effort. The house, which she believes was built at about the beginning of the 20th century, boasts walnut banisters that extend to the third floor, oak and hard pine floors, dormers, and Palladian windows, among other features.

The cost of buying a half-acre lot, moving the house and renovating it might be no more than $225,000, Cochran estimates - far less than what many people are paying today in Howard County for older homes of that size.

"You can't buy a home like that for that much anymore," she said.

In addition, Cochran said, the new owners could enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that they had rescued a piece of the county's rapidly vanishing past. Former state Sen. James Clark Jr., whose offices were in the building, said he believes the house was built by the heirs of his wealthy forebear Basil Crawford Clark, who made his fortune in Texas after fighting in the Civil War.

Interest stirring

Two families have shown interest in the building.

With six children, Vicky and Darryl Green of the Columbia village of Harper's Choice say the house would be ideal for them, but they have been unable to find a nearby lot to move it to.

"We're just hoping someone with land close by would come forward and say, `We'll sell you this place so they won't have it to tear it down,'" Vicky Green said. "It would be such a shame to tear it down."

Cochran said prospective owners have a month to move the house before Amoco is scheduled to close on the purchase. The building's owners and Amoco, she said, have been unusually accommodating of the preservationists' efforts.

"It's pretty rare you have someone willing to take time to see if it's feasible to be moved before it's bulldozed away," she said. "It's very generous of them to do this for us."

Michael G. Riemer, one of the building's owners, said he saw no reason not to give the house a chance at a second life - although he isn't sure he'd be willing to undertake such a project.

"If anyone wants to move it, that's wonderful," he said. "I don't want to put anything past people as to what's feasible. What I think is silly is what someone else would want."

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