Demolition of house catches preservation panel off guard

Group was about to begin effort to save building

Harford County

February 09, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

A pile of stones and pegs is all that is left of the Little Stone House on Shucks Road near Creswell. The centuries-old building was demolished just as a county committee was beginning an effort to protect it.

Chad Shrodes, a preservation planner with the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said the Historic Preservation Commission met Jan. 27 and voted to work with the new property owners to protect the house, but the next day the owners, who were not part of the meeting, demolished the building.

Shrodes said the demolition had nothing to do with the meeting, but was done because the owners plan to build a house on the property. "It was a coincidence that it was torn down the next day," Shrodes said. "We try to preserve what we can, but everything is voluntary."

The house was not registered as a historical landmark, Shrodes said, but an inventory in 1976 dated it to at least the 18th century. "The only way it could have been protected is if it was a Harford County landmark," Shrodes said. He added that the owner has to document a property's history to help establish it as a landmark.

Henry Harjes III of Columbia, a co-owner of the property, said he was aware it was an old house and that he contacted officials in Washington and found it was not listed on any historical records. He said he even asked around about the property.

"Nobody said anything to me about the house," Harjes said. "It was in the contract that it was not a historical piece."

Harjes and Amy Goodrich purchased the building Jan. 7. In late December, they applied for a building permit for a single-family home with a three-car garage and porch. The permit was issued Jan. 14.

Harjes said he had planned to demolish the house within 30 days because it was an extreme safety hazard. "The walls seen from the road were still standing, but from the back ... the rear walls had fallen down and were completely open," he said. "It was structurally dangerous and someone was going to get hurt."

Harjes and Goodrich demolished the house Jan. 28 without a demolition permit. They were fined an administrative fee of $250 and a permit fee of $75. The Harford County Health Department will decide whether to approve the demolition after inspecting the rubble.

Grace Fielder, a licensed landscape architect whose family owned the 1,000 acres the house sat on from 1970 to 2001, said she felt the house should have been protected.

"The vote was taken on Monday night to save the house and then Tuesday afternoon the house was gone," she said.

Fielder said she was saddened when she found the house was torn down. "I grew up with the Little Stone House," she said. "The Little Stone House was my personal love."

Fielder began researching the property after her mother died. She contends the house was built in 1680, and the original owner of the house was Thomas Lytfoote, a deputy surveyor in Harford County.

Fielder reached her conclusion on the date of the house when she found the initials T and R carved in a lintel. Fielder contends that the T and R represented Thomas and Rebecca Lytfoote, who owned the land in 1686, according to land records she has.

People were living in the house until 25 years ago, Fielder said. After renters left the house, it was vandalized. To protect the house, she put a second mortgage on her home and installed a new roof and new windows.

Fielder said the demolition of the house was a great loss for her. "I personally made a huge commitment" to keep the building, she said. "It's a story of what's happening to our historic sites."

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