House free to a good home

Mansion to be displaced by land sale

November 19, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

House available in Aberdeen: three bedrooms, one bath, 1,036 square feet, Colonial style, George Washington reportedly slept there, rumored to be haunted.

The price: free.

The catch: New owner must move the home from the site it occupies on the edge of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"It is free, but that is almost cruelly misleading," said James Pomeroy, a Frederick County resident who owns the house known as Poplar Hill. "The new owner will have to come up with big dollars to move it. We can't put [another expense] on top of that."

Pomeroy and his wife, Anne, inherited the 34-acre property this year from her mother but must sell it to pay the estate taxes. Several developers are interested in the land, anticipating the coming expansion at the Army base. But the house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is believed to be the oldest structure in Aberdeen, would likely be razed in any redevelopment, Pomeroy says.

"We are trying to preserve Poplar Hill while we still have control," said Pomeroy, 76, a retired government programmer who runs a small horse farm in Urbana. "We know most developers will not care about a historic property."

The home sits on a site that only a developer could love: between a Wal-Mart and railroad tracks on Old Philadelphia Road, hard against APG.

"The land is worth so much more money than the house," said James T. Wollon, a preservation architect who has researched the home. "Moving it may be its only salvation."

Relocating the home would cost between $60,000 and $100,000, Pomeroy said. And even on a new lot with a new foundation, this is the consummate fixer-upper.

"Our hope is strictly that the house will be moved and preserved by someone who appreciates its historic value," Pomeroy said.

The saltbox-style home with the gambrel roof and brown shingles was built for a wealthy farmer about 1750. Many of the structure's distinctive architectural features have survived.

"It was very well done to begin with," said Wollon. "The details are as good as it gets, and all the details are mostly intact, probably because nobody has ever brought the place up to date. That's really what saved the features."

The floor plan on the lower level features a carved staircase with a large room on either side. The parlor includes distinctive paneling and a corner cupboard with rounded "butterfly" style shelves, an example of rare cabinetry, Wollon said.

"It is an antique that is free," said Wollon, whose office is in Havre de Grace.

Brett Stephens, the latest in a long line of renters who have occupied the home for the past 50 years, has found wooden nails and primitive carpenters' markings under the staircase. There are log beams - some with bark on them - in the basement, and wooden floors throughout the house. The original front door was built with wide boards angled from the hinge side to prevent sagging.

"The banister is all one piece and the stairs are so solid they don't squeak," Stephens said. "When you think of the crude materials they had, this house is a mansion. I would move it in a heartbeat if I had the means."

For all the home's exquisite architectural touches, the legends associated with the place might be its most tantalizing aspect.

George Washington supposedly slept there, which some history buffs say makes sense because the country's first president would have traveled on Route 7 - the main north-south highway of the era - to reach Havre de Grace, where it is certain he spent the night many times, Wollon said.

"This was the only house here at that time, and it was on the only road to anywhere," Stephens said. "Washington would have had to stop here when he was traveling through."

And then there is the rumor that the place is haunted by a Civil War-era ghost. Stephens has not encountered any spirits during his four-year residency, but he does not discount the possibility of their existence.

"This house has been around so long, it is bound to collect stories," he said.

Catherine Mitchell, the mother of Anne Pomeroy, had offered to give the home to the Aberdeen city government a few years ago. But after studying the feasibility of moving the structure, the city declined the offer.

"There are huge power lines that supply a lot of industry along Philadelphia Road and they would have to be lifted," said Phyllis Grover, Aberdeen's director of planning, who has been inundated with inquiries about the free home.

The Pomeroys also have received numerous responses to their offer.

"They range from keen interest to obsession," Pomeroy said.

Orthodox preservationists argue that relocating a home from its original site diminishes its historic significance.

But Maryanna Skowronski, administrator of the Historical Society of Harford County, takes a more pragmatic view.

"Moving is not the best solution, but it is better than demolishing it," she said.

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