State grants help county preserve its history

Md. awards a total of $265,000 to six organizations protecting structures, operating museums


Saying the state is firmly in the historic preservation business, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. presented six grants - worth a total of $265,000 - to preservation projects and museums in Anne Arundel County on Wednesday, choosing a renovated three-story 1791 structure on Annapolis' Main Street as the setting.

That arrangement was no accident because the site, soon to house the new St. Clair Wright History Center, received the lion's share of funding, $170,000, from two state grants awarded to the Historic Annapolis Foundation. Other recipients of preservation funds were the U.S. Lighthouse Society, the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society, the London Town Foundation and the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation. Ehrlich said after the event that the Lighthouse Society project, restoring the 1875 Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay, is one he's especially eager to see completed. Owned by the city of Annapolis, the hexagonal lighthouse, designed with a keeper's cottage, is scheduled to be opened to visitors for the first time in May.

"I can't wait to take Drew," said Ehrlich, referring to his 6-year-old son.

The $50,000 historic preservation grant to the nonprofit group will further the goal of keeping the bay lighthouse operational for navigation and upgrading it as a tourist attraction, said C. Jane Cox, a county environmental and cultural resources planner. The county is also a partner in the project.

"It's not a kind environment out there, with the salt water, the wind, the waves, " she said, referring to the iron-and-wood lighthouse's position a half-mile from shore, four to five miles from the Annapolis Harbor.

Dennis Castleman, the state's assistant secretary of tourism, said the state's approach in choosing projects is to preserve historical structures and also treat them as viable assets.

"This helps preserve [historic] buildings and helps them become economic engines," he said. "It creates a product, with history and heritage as a component."

The Shady Side Rural Heritage Society received a $5,000 grant, seed money not meant to save an old building but to develop an intergenerational exchange through an oral history program involving students and seniors in the community.

Historic London Town and Gardens, near Edgewater, was awarded a $12,000 museum enhancement grant, said executive director Donna Ware.

Ware said the process of applying for state historic preservation grants is competitive.

"Every dollar is important," she said.

The emphasis lately on historic preservation's economic value - or "cultural tourism," as boosters say - benefits and widens the interest in places such as London Town.

"Politicians are listening," she added.

The grant project that stretches back furthest in time is being conducted by the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation. The nonprofit trust received $28,000 to continue the Rhode River project, which will excavate Native American archaeological sites that date from 1,000 years ago.

Cox, the county planner, is also working on this project, which will evaluate the recently discovered ancient sites and the impact of development pressures on them.

"There's so much pressure on the shoreline with erosion and development in Anne Arundel County," she said. "This [grant] is allowing us to go into the sites and see if they're worth preserving."

The St. Clair Wright History Center, slated to open in the spring, will provide a visual lesson in 300 years of architecture and a starting point for tourists interested in exploring city history, Historic Annapolis Foundation officials said.

The state's historic tax credit program amounted to a $150,000 grant to renovate the late-18th-century brick structure at Main and Green streets. The project, which will offer a facility called HistoryQuest, received a museum enhancement grant of $20,000.

Gregory Stiverson, the foundation president, said the golden age of Annapolis took place from 1750 to 1775, before the Revolutionary War. He said he hoped the center would conjure up that period and tell people tales of a time when, he said, "It was called the genteelest town in America."

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