Harford County weighs purchase of Booth home

Theater museum possible in building where assassin lived

April 18, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Harford County officials are looking into buying the spruced-up childhood home of Abraham Lincoln's assassin and turning it into a theater museum. But owning a piece of history won't be cheap.

When Tudor Hall was on the auction block in 1999, preservationists urged local officials to acquire the Bel Air property, for fear it could be razed for development. The winning bidders instead gave the once-decrepit house a $400,000 facelift worthy of Extreme Home Makeover, a rehabilitation that sent the price soaring.

Renowned actors

Listed at $925,000, the home failed to sell at auction two weeks ago. That renewed hope among theater buffs, who note that the home's greater significance lies not in its connection to John Wilkes Booth, but to the acting accomplishments of his brother and father, who were renowned Shakespearean actors.

County Executive David R. Craig, a former history teacher, said he would like to see the county acquire Tudor Hall through grants and establish a nonprofit group to oversee theater-related events at the site.

The purchase would ensure the future of the home, whose past prospective buyers have considered everything from dismantling it to turning it into a bed and breakfast.

"It's probably one of the three or four most historic sites in the county," Craig said in an interview last week. "It should be protected in the public domain."

In 1999, Harford Community College set aside $200,000 toward the purchase of the home, hoping to develop a museum for study of the Civil War era and Shakespearean theater in America. The offer was rejected.

Dinah Faber, a volunteer with the Harford County Historical Society, recently contacted Craig about getting the county involved again and was pleasantly surprised by his response.

"I went there expecting to make a very hard sell and make a big case, but as it turned out, I was preaching to the choir," Faber said. "He seems totally on board."

`Creative options'

Aimee C. O'Neill, the Realtor overseeing the home's sale, confirmed she had been contacted by Craig and that the county office of procurement wanted to discuss "creative options" for purchasing Tudor Hall after the Easter holiday.

Craig said grant money could come from the state's housing and community development and economic development departments.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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