Turning plantation into park

Work has begun on the second phase of restoration for Swan Harbor Farm - a `crown jewel' in the county.

April 03, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Joe Pfaff, Phase 2 of the master plan for Swan Harbor Farm will begin with the groundbreaking on an $850,000 development project later this year.

The land seems destined for great things. When visitors drive down the mile-long lane leading to Swan Harbor Farm they may have no idea what to expect. The main house isn't visible, and the lane narrows and gets rougher. Trees hang down across the lane like a canopy, setting the stage for a grand entrance - the main house.

When the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation purchased 463 acres of the tidewater plantation about a decade ago, it recognized the splendor of the land and created a master plan for the property.

Phase 1 involves restoration of the main house and surrounding buildings and structures. "Swan Harbor Farm is the crown jewel of the park system," said Joe Pfaff, director of parks and recreation. "It's one of the few publicly accessible waterfront properties in the county with access to the bay. This property is the focal point of our park system. Many people don't know it's here. We want to change that."

Many people who visit the farm remark on the view of the Chesapeake, park officials say.

Soon, however, the house will have a rival for best view - an observation deck that is part of Phase 2. This phase includes building a walkway, gazebo, fishing and walking pier, trail, sidewalks and boat-docking area.

"This development project is quite extensive," Pfaff said. Plans include a walkway starting at the garden, paralleling the vineyard and leading to the water. A two-level pier will extend 400 feet into the water, with the top for pedestrians and the bottom for fishermen and boats.

Bob Lee Geddes, project manager, said construction is expected to begin later this year.

"We sent our proposals out last year. We secured funding on the project from several sources," Geddes said, including federal funding.

Geddes said the Parks and Recreation Department is also trying to look to the future. "Havre de Grace has talked about a water taxi," he said. "They tried to test it last year but the hurricane and other things prevented a successful run."

Another part of the plan deals with the history of the house and land.

Swan Harbor Farm was built by the Giles family during the late Georgian period. The main house was originally 61 feet by 20 feet, according to 1798 tax records. After several additions and changes, the house now measures 60 feet 5 inches by 20 feet 5 inches. The mantels in the house are some of the finest Federal-era mantels in Harford County. The house also features some of the original windows, and much of the wood floors were part of the original structure. The front of the house offers one of the best views of the bay.

Pfaff said the Parks and Recreation Department wanted some kind of symbolic restoration on the farm.

In 1797, John Adlum purchased it. He planted a vineyard and pioneered winemaking in Maryland. However, he's more widely recognized for his friendship with Thomas Jefferson. In Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, author James M. Gabler explains how the two became friends and how Jefferson acquired cuttings from Adlum's vineyard.

The cuttings Jefferson alludes to in the book were handpicked from Adlum's vineyard at Swan Harbor Farm. In an attempt to re-create the atmosphere of the farm during this historic period, the Parks and Recreation Department has allowed a vineyard to be planted on the property in the same location as Adlum's vineyard.

Craig Lanphear, park administrator at Swan Harbor, said the vineyard was part of the master plan.

"We knew when we purchased the land that we wanted to highlight the history of the plantation," Lanphear said. "We want to restore it to its original state. The vineyard is one step toward achieving that."

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