1700s log cabin burns

Historic structure was undergoing restoration at park

No injuries reported

Early settlers' home relocated in 1984 to Rockburn Branch

September 24, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A pre-dawn fire destroyed a three-century-old log cabin yesterday in what Howard County preservationists consider a significant blow to local historic preservation efforts.

The blaze at 6 a.m. claimed the cabin, which after more than a decade of neglect in Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge was on the way to restoration.

The fire was quickly extinguished, said Howard County Fire Capt. Gary Jones. He said the cause of the fire was unknown, and that the state fire marshal was investigating. No injuries were reported and the cabin was empty, he said.

Fire officials estimated the loss at $200,000, largely because of the structure's historic value, but preservationists consider the loss incalculable.

"I am so sick to my stomach," said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County. "It is a significant, significant loss. I can't believe it."

She said the building was one of the oldest cabins in the county, constructed by early settlers.

The original section is believed to date to between 1696 and 1710, with a later room and loft likely completed about 1845.

Hardly an imposing structure, the building was about 20 feet by 14 feet, with hand-hewn logs and beams with chinking. Inside, it had a granite fireplace and hand-molded brick chimney.

"Sometimes the most significant buildings are the least impressive-looking," Cochran said.

Known as the Warfield cabin and the Phelps cabin for its owners, and the Gorman cabin for its original home near Gorman Road, the cabin made the transition from settlers' home into slave quarters, then outbuilding. It survived a 1984 relocation from its North Laurel location to the park.

It was about halfway through a $55,000 restoration, said Gary J. Arthur, director of the county Recreation and Parks Department.

Its long-awaited restoration was part of a county plan to create a heritage site in Rockburn Branch Park, with buildings moved out of the way of development. The area was to contain the cabin; the Clover Hill 18th-century brick farmhouse; the MacKenzie Barn, built from logs in the 1860s; and the Pfeiffer's Corner School, a late-1800s wood structure in Clarksville, which has yet to be moved there.

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