This is a detail of one of the French doors in the grand hall of… (BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR,…)
The Perry Hall Mansion, one of Baltimore County's most historically significant buildings, sits on a hill in a fairly fresh coat of white stucco, poised between redemption and decay.
The new stucco is already peeling in spots and the straw-colored grass is long enough to bury your boots. While there are new windows, heating, air conditioning, electrical and fire alarm systems, wallpaper is peeling everywhere, plaster is cracking, and the place seems abandoned behind a wire fence and forbidding sign: "Baltimore County Property. Under Surveillance."
The restoration appears to be "stalled," as the new County Council member from Perry Hall, David Marks, put it. Starting his first term representing the Perry Hall, Towson and Loch Raven areas, Marks hopes to help rekindle the work, although he acknowledges the difficulty these days of proposing anything that involves spending money, or in this case, more money.
Between county and state contributions, nearly $1.3 million has been allocated in the effort to restore the mansion to something approaching the glory of its heyday in the late 18th and early 19th century under the ownership of Harry Dorsey Gough — the renowned party host who, for awhile at least, turned abstemious Methodist. Now there's perhaps $1 million worth of work to be done before the job could be considered completed and nowhere near that sum on hand.
"I just want to get the project moving again," said Marks, "I want to get a consensus" on how to proceed with the project, perhaps with some combination of public and private financing, including grants.
"We should be exploring all of our options," said Marks, who hoped to get the topic "on the county's radar" by spending a few moments at a recent council meeting encouraging the county administrative officer, Fred Homan, to keep his eye out for potential sources of money.
"Candidly speaking," he said during a recent tour of the mansion off Belair Road in Nottingham, "I don't think the government revenues are there to get this done."
Newly elected County Executive Kevin Kamenetz made "doing more with less" a campaign theme, and opened his administration by consolidating some department head jobs and cutting more than 140 unfilled positions. Homan told the council last month that lean times are bound to continue as tax revenues remain sluggish and the state begins shifting some costs to the counties.
In more prosperous days than these, the county bought the Perry Hall Mansion and the four-acre site for $335,000 in 2001 with the intention of turning it into a museum under the Department of Recreation and Parks, somewhat along the lines of the better-known Hampton Mansion in Towson. The two landmarks were considered "sister" homes in the 19th century, according to Friends of Perry Hall Mansion, as the respective owners, Gough and the Ridgely family, were related by marriage.
Hampton went on to splendor as a National Historic site, while Perry Hall Mansion struggles to find its place among local attractions. The building has a spot in the National Register of Historic Places and the Baltimore County Landmarks List, but the most recent renovations were completed in 2009 and nothing has happened in the building since a holiday reception and tour held by the Friends of Perry Hall Mansion in December a year ago.
Unoccupied since 1999, the house inside is a mess of broken plaster, ragged wallpaper, faded paint and dust. The doors are boarded up and the house cannot qualify for an occupancy and use permit.
Jeffrey Smith, president of Friends of Perry Hall Mansion, said "structurally the house is very sound," although he acknowledged that even the "cosmetic" improvements, as he put it, could cost near $1 million. He said that's only a guess that assumes no attempt to outfit the place with authentic 18th- and early 19th- century furnishings to replicate the two major periods of construction.
Smith said $75,000 remains from the state and county renovation allocations, and the friends group has $100,000, and just received a $10,000 gift from the Perry Hall Woman's Club. The $75,000 could be used to repair doors, install a security alarm system and begin planning a new road to the mansion, now a long gravel driveway.
He and Marks said finishing the work will probably demand some mix of public and private effort, including the possibility of supporting the project by making the completed building available for small conferences and other functions.
"I would only support very limited private uses only if the neighborhood supported it," said Marks. He said residents who live near the mansion "don't want loud, noisy parties and they don't want a lot of traffic."
Marks wants to talk with Azola & Associates Inc., a Baltimore County architectural firm specializing in adapting historic buildings to new uses, and anyone else who might have a good idea.
"We need to have a brainstorming session on what this building needs to look like and how we get there," Marks said.
A previous version of this story contained a photo caption that gave an incorrect date for the construction of Perry Hall Mansion. It was built in 1773.