1852 house razed amid preservation talks

Cockeysville site leased by auto business owner who plans parking lot

November 16, 2009|By By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun

Cockeysville has lost another facet of its history to the wrecking ball, despite the efforts of residents who were working to preserve elements of the 19th-century tenant house built by Judge Joshua Cockey II.

The ramshackle two-story structure that dates to 1852 was razed a week ago to make way for a parking lot.

Although Baltimore County's Landmark Preservation Commission deemed the building unsalvageable, residents had hoped to save the stones, long ago covered with stucco, and make them into a memorial wall. They were still negotiating with the property owner when the building was torn down.

"Our goal is to bring to light that we still have significant local history here, that it is of cultural value and worth saving, before it is all gone," said Becky Gerber, a Cockeysville resident who has worked on several preservation efforts.

Research has shown that the limestone was mined in nearby quarries by Irish immigrants and hauled by ox-drawn carts to the site. Cockey most likely had some of his 60 slaves build the home as a residence for his blacksmith. According to local lore, the home was used briefly by the Union Army for storage and a guardhouse.

Residents envisioned building a commemorative limestone wall on a spot nearby.

"We are talking about a lot of stone," Gerber said. "While the original building was only one story with a cellar, the walls are at least 20 inches deep."

John Avron, the new lessee who hopes eventually to purchase the York Road property, said he has plans to potentially use the stone in a future building. The demolition, for which the county issued a permit, took place Nov. 7 and 8, much to the dismay of residents.

"I didn't care," said William Casper, who owned the building and the surrounding 1.5 acres. "I told them they could have what they wanted."

Gerber said, "We had been talking to the owner for about two months on how and when we would salvage the stone. We had spent many hours meeting with various specialists for their feedback and instruction. I am truly saddened."

Volunteers had hoped to retrieve the stones by hand, a process that would have saved the owner hauling and dumping fees, Gerber said.

For Casper, the home, which he inherited from his father five years ago, was an eyesore and financial burden. He could not rent it in its neglected condition and had to pay costly insurance premiums and $3,000 in annual property taxes.

"It was nothing but a shack that I couldn't rent," he said. "It had lived its course and was way beyond repair. It has been a burden ever since I inherited it."

Ridding himself of the home cost another $21,000 - $15,000 for demolition and the rest to disconnect sewer and water lines.

Avron, who has salvaged what he wanted from the rubble, said, "This building had to come down. It was not safe."

He said he would allow residents to dig stone from what remains of the foundation, as long as they backfill the site. He owns a nearby auto business and will likely use most of the property for a parking lot, he said.

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