Many of Upper Marlboro's elderly blacks remember the Diggs House and Candy Store as a place where they could get not only a fistful of candy for 2 cents, but also help with their homework.
Now this landmark may fall to the wrecking ball if townspeople fail in their efforts to preserve the 19th-century building.
Its owner, William Finglass, president of the American Constuction Co., says he wants replace it with an office building.
The yellow frame structure near the fire station on Main Street, with its rickety porch and its door wired shut, may seem an eyesore to some people. It has been vacant four years.
But to longstanding residents, the house and the former candy store adjacent to it evoke the simpler life of yesteryear.
The house was the home of James Diggs, who for nearly 50 years taught biology, agriculture and other subjects to many of the town's black youngsters at the Frederick Douglass School, now Frederick Douglass High School.
Diggs operated his candy store from the 1920s until his death in the 1940s, and his widow kept the store open until the 1960s. Finglass bought the property in 1976.
The diggs house is one of more than 400 historic sites and districts in Prince George's County that are included in a preservation plan proposed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Of that number, only two sites so far have been deemed of special black historical value. The commission has not yet researched and documented the historical significance of all sites in the plan, however.
James W. Collins, the commission's planning chief, said the Prince George's County Department of Licenses and Permits will hold a public hearing soon and decide within 45 days whether to grant Fineglass permission to demolish the house.
Although one local group -- St. Mary's Beneficial Society -- and several residents say they are intertested in preserving the house, no one has made a clear offer to buy it or to move it.
One observer who asked not to be identified said local residents have not organized themselves well on the issue of saving the house, adding, "They've got to get their act together."
At a park and planning commission meeting recently, Upper Marlboro resident Ann Sparrough suggested that the Diggs House be turned into a library or a museum of black history.
"Upper Marlboro is losing its entire 18th- and 19th-century character to the wrecking ball," Sparrough told the commission.
Sparrough pointed out that several other old buildings in the center of town have been demolished, among them the Marlboro Hotel and the Beer Garden. "We've losing our streetscape," she added.
Fineglass has offered to pay part of the cost of moving the Diggs House, but he says it has no historical value and is beyond restoration.
"If there's anything historic in this building, we (American Construction Co.) would be glad to restore it," Finglass remarked. He said his firm helped to restore Washington's Renwick Gallery in 1971.
But Sparrough insisted the Diggs House should and could be restored. She said the floorboard and walls of her 19th-century home had rotted and her house had been "seemingly" beyond restoration.
But, she added, "We've totally restored our home. I know it (restoration of the Diggs House), can be done."
Also attending the meeting were members of St. Mary's Beneficial Society, a 100-year-old group that provides assistance to ailing members of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Upper Marlboro.
Robert Crawley, chairman of Prince George's County Historical and Cultural Trust, proposes that the Diggs House be moved to Marlboro Race Track property the county recently purchased.
Bessie Tolson, 78, has lived in Upper Marlboro more than 50 years. She has happy memories of shopping at the Diggs' Store after school. "It was an 'everything store,'" she said. "You could get little pies and canned goods.
"It was like a country store. The Greyhound bus would stop there. And we'd get copies of the Afro-American and Pittsburgh Courier (newspapers).
Tolson added, "It was our link to the outside world."