Slave quarters repairs approved

Task force prepares for next step of restoration project

December 10, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Sun reporter

The Woodlawn Slave Quarters is on track for a restoration in the summer, and members of a task force established by the Columbia Association are looking at what might come next for the site off Bendix Road, where the crumbling stone building is thought to have stood for 300 years.

Archaeological research, more public activities and finding more funding were all on the agenda last week as the group reviewed its short- and long-term goals for the property.

From its beginning, the task force has aimed to address more than just the building, said Barbara Kellner, a task force member and manager of the Columbia archives.

"The building without the story behind it is not meaningful," she said. "It is not just that building, but trying to make some use out of the entire open space that is out there."

Still, the first step was to get the crumbling stone structure stabilized and secured.

The task force presented three plans to the Columbia Association board this summer, said Dennis Mattey, an assistant division director for the homeowners association.

The least expensive option was to secure the ruins as they are, while the priciest option was to restore it with materials from its original time period.

After a couple of meetings and public input, the board supported the task force's recommendation for a middle option: restoring the structure to its original form using some modern techniques.

The association also agreed to provide $125,000 in additional funding for the construction phase.

"The vast majority of people will get a real feel for what it was like, without going to the much greater expense," Mattey said.

An architect is working on plans to repair the stone walls, add a roof, restore the dirt floor and window openings -- which will have shutters, but not glass -- rebuild a fireplace and add framing to show where a second floor was believed to have existed.

Construction is anticipated to begin in June and last approximately 60 days.

While the task force was exploring the construction options, it also was compiling historical research.

A recent report by the Howard County Architectural Historian traces the property's owners and concludes that the two-story stone building was likely slave housing.

Now members are pursuing archaeological research that might add to what is known about the location and clarify its importance in the county and the state.

They are exploring partnerships with area universities and the state government that may lead to some digging and cataloguing inside the structure before construction and on the surrounding CA-owned property.

The group is also focusing on ways to get more people to use the site in order to increase its visibility and its safety.

For example, a nearby cottage could house a tenant caretaker, or community gardens could increase the use of the area.

Kellner said the task force also is considering ways to work with the county and nearby neighborhoods to increase the use of walking and bike paths that go by the slave quarters and connect the location to a larger area.

"We certainly want people to know about it," she said. "It doesn't make sense to just have the building sitting there."

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