Church hopes to raze school Booth attended

Lincoln's killer was part of uprising at site

March 26, 2001|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The last remnant of a 150-year-old Catonsville school that lists among its alumni John Wilkes Booth and two co-conspirators in the Lincoln assassination is a step away from being razed.

St. Timothy's Episcopal Church has applied for a permit to raze the dilapidated shack where Booth and his friends became involved in a school rebellion that yielded an eerie prophecy about his role as one of America's most notorious villains.

The Rev. Steven Randall of St. Timothy's said the two-story clapboard building with cannonball-sized holes in the walls and rusting metal roofs has become a hazard, particularly for children who play in the area.

The boarded-up building, which is on church property in the 200 block of Ingleside Ave., hasn't been used since 1991 and is surrounded by a chain-link fence to keep people out.

"It's dangerous, and neighbors are concerned," Randall said. "I think it's had its day."

The Rev. Libertus Van Bokkelen established St. Timothy's Military Hall in 1845, a year before the Mexican-American War broke out and at a time when military schools were gaining in popularity.

Initially a large, three-story H-shaped building, Timothy's Hall built the remaining two-story building in 1850 as a school gymnasium and armory, according to county historical society records.

In 1853, a minor rebellion took place at the school after students killed chickens belonging to Van Bokkelen.

The headmaster retaliated by canceling school holidays, causing a platoon of students, including Booth, to retreat into the woods armed with muskets.

Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Loughlin, who were charged in the Lincoln conspiracy 12 years later, were with Booth.

Van Bokkelen ended the Timothy's Hall insurgency. But Booth made a bold prediction about his eventual greatness, according to one unnamed student in the historical record.

"He asserted that he would do something that would hand his name down to posterity, never to be forgotten, even after a thousand years," the student said.

County building inspectors said they are awaiting a report from their environmental division before giving final approval to raze the structure.

John Reisinger, county building engineer, said the building has not been designated a historical property.

Even Booth descendants who live in the area say the building appears beyond repair.

"Just because someone went there for a couple of years doesn't make it historical," said Thomas Booth of Catonsville, a property manager and distant cousin of the most famous Booth. "It's been pretty run-down and neglected for years."

Some neighbors, such as Nick Margaritas, owner of the Piano Man music store, say they'll be sorry to see the building go.

"What was Williamsburg before they restored it?" Margaritas asked.

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