Cromwell Valley Park stays true to its roots

Restoration of farm buildings just part of its history

December 13, 2006|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,sun reporter

A squat, stone building kept dairy products cool. A wooden structure shaped like an upside-down "V" stored ears of corn. The loft of a whitewashed barn was packed with bales of hay for horses to eat in the winter.

These structures and seven other historical agricultural buildings were almost lost - twice. But today Baltimore County officials will celebrate the completion of a project to restore 10 buildings at Cromwell Valley Park.

More than a decade ago, community members teamed with the county and state to preserve the farms on which these buildings stand from developers. The 317-acre Cromwell Valley Park was established to protect three farms in the Loch Raven area and the woods that surround them.

But time and weather had taken their toll on the smaller buildings that ringed the farms and some appeared in danger of falling apart. Moss grew thick on roofs, boards were rotting and beams had grown brittle, said Jim Kelly, vice president of the Friends of Cromwell Valley Park.

The buildings were repaired with historically accurate materials through a $710,000 stabilization and restoration project.

"It shows us a piece of our history," said Caren B. Hoffberger, chief of preservation services for the county's office of planning. "We get to use it now, and we look forward to using it with our children and our grandchildren."

Most of the buildings dated from the 1930s, but at least one structure, a large barn, appears to have been constructed around the time of the Civil War. Earlier this year, Kelly successfully campaigned to add the structures to the county's list of historical landmarks.

That meant that the Landmarks Preservation Committee worked with the Department of Recreation and Parks and Friends of Cromwell Valley Park to restore the buildings.

"If the commission were not involved, it might have been fixed with vinyl siding instead of wood siding," said Kelly, pointing to one of the restored barns.

The structures, which include an apple house, a silo and a corncrib, surround the three farmhouses that form park's backbone. The oldest home, Willow Grove Farm, once belonged to prominent Baltimore banker Robert Merrick. The other farms belonged to the Sherwood and Eck families.

Earlier this week, slants of sunlight slipped through chinks in the walls of the Sherwood barn as Kelly described its restoration. "It was completely rotten to the extent that they had to replace every beam of siding," he said.

Workers strived to maintain historical accuracy in all of the repairs, he said. Doors are decorated with X-shaped bars of wood. Battered cupolas were reconstructed and aluminum windows were removed and replaced with wood and glass.

Many of the buildings are used to store farm and recreation equipment for the county, Kelly said, although he hopes that the park will dedicate more buildings to educational programs.

"We're considered a passive-use park," said park manager Leo Rebetsky. "The parkland is set aside for people to come in and hike."

Visitors wander trails that wind past meadows, over a rushing stream and up hills. Deep in the woods, the sounds of cars cannot be heard. Deer dashing by break the silence.

The park was closed for a year, reopening in July 2005, to allow the county to restore Minebank Run, the stream that runs through the park.

An organic cooperative continues to farm portions of the land, and schoolchildren visit on field trips. A former bull barn is home to a program that teaches people with disabilities about gardening and flower arranging.

Next on the agenda for the park is to restore three lime kilns and a farmhouse on the banks of the stream. Kelly is also working with the county to plant trees along a section of roadway.

"This place is always a work in progress," Kelly said. "But that's a good thing."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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