Preserving county's past

Preservation group reveals its Top 10 endangered sites in Howard for 2007

May 20, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN REPORTER

Half of the properties listed among Preservation Howard County's Top 10 Endangered Sites this year are new to the annual inventory, as the nonprofit volunteer group tries to get people excited about saving historic houses, barns, school and even neighborhoods.

Among the list's newcomers are the U.S. post office on Main Street in Ellicott City, the ruins of the St. Charles seminary in Ellicott City, the crossroads community of Highland and three buildings in Columbia Town Center designed by Frank O. Gehry.

A former schoolhouse on Stephens Road was added to the list a little too late. It was knocked down by the property's owner within the past two weeks.

The purpose of the list is "to bring to the attention of Howard County residents the importance of historic properties," said Fred Dorsey, second vice president of Preservation Howard County, "and to make [people] aware of the difficulties faced by communities and individuals in maintaining these properties."

The group relies on its knowledge of local historic sites and nominations from the public to make its list.

PHC plans to officially unveil its list today at a public celebration of one success story: the Woodlawn Slave Quarters.

The two-story, roughly 300-year-old building was a crumbling, roofless, vine-covered ruin until the Columbia Association started a task force to save the structure. Today, tours will leave from the county's Dorsey building on Bendix Road, starting at 3 p.m., to show people the newly rebuilt quarters, and a reception at 4 p.m. at Oakland Manor will celebrate the association's $225,000 renovation effort.

The slave quarters appeared on PHC's first Top 10 list in 2001 and remained on the list though 2005.

The list "was part of the reason we wanted to pay some more attention to [the quarters]," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, a member of the Columbia Association board of directors who served on the task force.

"It's just a remarkable achievement, I think, to restore this, get it off the endangered list and begin to focus on how to make it available to the general public for educational purposes," she said.

The outbuildings of the MonteJoy property in Columbia were removed from the list this year because they are being restored by a new owner. A stone mile marker in Clarksville left the list because it will be protected and moved when Route 108 is widened.

Other sites, such as barns on the historic Mount Hebron property in Ellicott City and the Brumbaugh House in Elkridge, have dropped off the list because it does not appear there will be any imminent action to save them, Dorsey said.

For every property that leaves the list, there are more to add.

The Columbia Exhibit Center was on PHC's first and second lists, but was removed after assurances from the Rouse Co. that it had no plans to take down one of Columbia's first buildings.

This year, plans to redevelop Town Center have encouraged Preservation Howard County to include the exhibit center along with two other structures designed by Gehry: the former Rouse Co. headquarters and Merriweather Post Pavilion. All three are now owned by General Growth Properties Inc.

Dorsey said the structures, the oldest of which is turning 40, are significant for their internationally acclaimed architect as well as their role in the early history of Columbia.

Barbara Nicklas, General Growth's vice president of marketing for master-planned communities, said the buildings "are still under discussion. All three of them will be part of the master plan [for Columbia Town Center]."

PHC would like to see a new owner update and maintain the post office in historic Ellicott City, which Dorsey said was dedicated in 1940 and is in need of significant maintenance. Among its attributes, it contains two murals painted in 1942 that were among 16 created in Maryland as part of a public works program during World War II.

Deborah Yackley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, said funds are scarce for building renovations but, "as far as us selling or moving, we don't have any specific plans to do that at this time."

She said she sees the addition of the building to the PHC list as a positive thing that might "get some additional interest" in preserving the structure.

Greater Highland Crossroads Association officials also say they are pleased to have the community included on the list as a way to draw attention to the high density of development in that largely rural area.

Zoning provisions are allowing developers to buy development rights to farmland in areas farther west and then transfer the density to properties in Highland, said Dan O'Leary, president of the association. He said 19 subdivisions are seeking approval to build at least 250 homes within a two-mile radius of the crossroads at Routes 216 and 108.

"We think we are being converted from a rural residential area to a denser suburban bedroom community," he said. "We don't want to bear the burden for the whole west."

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