Policymakers discover Columbia's historic features

Groups sponsoring tour hope for support, funding

May 09, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Hidden as it is in an out-of-the-way part of Columbia, the Woodlawn Slave Quarters usually gets few visitors.

Yesterday was extremely unusual.

For 20 minutes, two delegates, a state senator, Columbia Association's president and more than 40 other people walked around the stone ruins -- after visiting an aging Roman Catholic church and before going to a 300-acre farm sometimes called Columbia's jewel.

In a display of political savvy, Preservation Howard County teamed up with Howard County Tourism to take policymakers face to face with deteriorating historic treasures tucked off local roads and with people hoping to do something about their conditions.

The tour coincided with the release of Preservation Howard County's second annual list of endangered historic sites. A few of the buildings have been in county government hands for years, decaying while funding plans get delayed.

Preservation Howard County President Mary Catherine Cochran hopes that politicians who touched the structures yesterday will be more likely to champion them -- and other relics of history -- when it counts.

"It makes it real for them," she said, looking at the animated tourists chatting in a 55-seat bus. "It's nice for them to know what's in their immediate back yards so when we come to them with a problem, they can be better prepared to help us create a solution."

Disregarding poison ivy growing around the slave quarters, architectural historian Alice Morrison Mordoh walked around the roofless structure and excitedly tried to figure out where the fireplace had been.

Then she heard that Preservation Howard County and the Columbia Association don't want to stabilize the building until an architectural historian can sort through clues that time left behind.

"Well, I'm going to look at it," promised Mordoh, who works for the county.

Next the bus headed to Blandair, the 300-acre island in Columbia whose owner doggedly protected it from all interests. Howard County bought the property after 82-year-old Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith died in 1997.

What remains is -- in Mordoh's opinion -- a time capsule. Among other outbuildings, a carriage house, a grain barn and at least one outhouse stand near the Greek Revival-style mansion that likely was built in the 19th century.

Visitors got the rare opportunity to walk inside.

"My, there's a lot of work to be done," said Republican Del. Gail H. Bates, looking with dismay at the crumbling rooms off the main hall.

Michael Walczak, the Howard County Historical Society's executive director, touched a marble fireplace, exclaimed over the still-beautiful red velvet curtains and begged a Preservation Howard County board member not to let any of the old paperwork, books and newspapers be thrown away.

"Give them to us," he suggested hopefully.

Walczak had heard about Blandair manor and its preservation needs, but walking through it -- seeing the boarded-up windows, the ancient wallpaper, the faded grandeur -- made him extremely glad he gave up a morning for the trip.

"I now have a different appreciation for this place," he said.

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