Maryland owns dozens of historic buildings in dilapidated condition that the state might soon lease or sell as a means of preserving them.
The 19th century Hammond farmhouse with barns and a small log cabin near the entrance to Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County is one of many Maryland Park Service properties expected to be leased or sold, park service officials said this week.
"But the state moves slowly," so it could take months or years before the buildings are actually made available, said John Flewelling, the park service official who helped prepare the recent Department of Natural Resources report on historic preservation.
"Sitting unoccupied is the kiss of death for historic buildings," Flewelling said. Hundreds of state-owned historic sites have been vandalized and allowed to deteriorate during the past decades, largely because Maryland has had no preservation program and has provided no money to preserve them.
The run-down condition of a 19th century farmhouse in the center of Sandy Point State Park, beside the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and several mansions in other state parks, such as Mount Airy mansion in Rosaryville State Park east of Andrews Air Force Base, spurred the governor's Board of Public Works to take action in 1979.
It ordered an inventory of all state structures of historical and archeological merit and directed state agencies to come up with plans for preserving them, including lease or sale of buildings that are not in use and are not needed.
The Department of Natural Resources, which owns about 400 historic structures, and the Department of Corrections, which has several on prison grounds, "are the farthest along of all the state agencies in following through" on the Board of Public Works" directive, according to Nancy Miller, deputy state historic preservation officer.
However, while the buildings have been inventoried, little has actually been done by any of the agencies to preserve their historic sites.
The Maryland Park Service has allocated about $400,000 for minimum restoration and "stabilization" work on the Sandy Point farmhouse and Mount Airy, but has almost no funds earmarked in the 1982 budget for preservation of its hundreds of other historic buildings.
Flewelling said the state already is leasing some park buildings, such as the Rock Hall Mansion in Monocacy Natural Resources area near Sugarloaf Mountain on the Montgomery-Frederick County border. It is being leased in exchange for restoration work on the house, an arrangement the Park Service hopes to get for Baldwin House, a Baltimore County mansion owned by the state. But such arrangements are not yet common.
Montgomery County's rambling Little Seneca State Park contains one of the state's largest troves of old buildings, including several farms and mills and a number of 19th century red sandstone structures at the Seneca quarries. The quarries provided the stone for many Washington buildings, including the Pension Building and the Smithsonian Institution's Castle and Renwick Gallery of Art. The quarries are near the C & O Canal, whose barges floated the sandstone into Washington.
The only restored quarry building is the 1866 Seneca School, which was restored by private citizen members of a Poolesville preservation group, said Flewelling. Buildings like the mid-19th century quarry master's house were surrounded by barbed wire fences after vandals repeatedly broke into the quarry master's house and stole and wrecked portions of it. The state park service had budgeted money to repair the roof, but the project was never completed.
The Hammond farm in Little Seneca is one of an undisclosed number of Maryland Park Service historic buildings identified as excess and likely prospects to be sold, Flewelling said. About 30 additional buildings are good prospects for leasing to outside groups or individuals.
The practice of leasing or selling government-owned historic buildings as a means of guaranteeing their preservation already is common in many states and cities, and is expected to become more widespread in coming years. Creating a shopping center inside Chatanooga's train station, which resembles Washington's Union Station, is but one example cited by preservationists.
The National Park Service long has permitted private groups to use historic buildings under special "cooperative agreements," and under new powers granted the park service last year by Congress, it is allowed to lease property for "adaptive re-use." This means that the new Lowell (Massachusetts) National Historical Park could be restored on the exterior and inside could contain "condominiums, light industry, warehouses, you name it," park service spokesman Duncan Morrow said this week.
In Washington the Abner Cloud House on the C & O Canal, opposite Fletcher's Boat House, is used by a chapter of the Colonial Dames of America, which paid for part of the building's restoration as a bicentennial project. Their presence ended years of vandalism and theft from the oldest building on the canal.
Similarly, in Towson the National Park Service lets a private historic preservation group use the Georgian mansion in its Hampton National Historic Site.
"The National Park Service sees this as the salvation for a lot of historic structures that otherwise would face the wrecking ball or be subject to neglect and vandalism," said Morrow.
It is unclear whether Maryland's state agencies will spend the funds needed to restore the historic buildings they plan to keep -- little money has been allocated so far -- or move quickly to encourage private use and restoration of buildings now designated as not needed.
"But at least the buildings have now been identified," says Flewelling.
The efforts of Maryland's Historic Trust and the directive of the Board of Public Works already have had some effect, even in unlikely spots like the Poplar Hill state prison farm in Wicomico County. There, two weeks ago, as a result of the directive, inmates began restoring the 19th century farmhouse that gave the prison its name and had been used as a guardhouse and visitors' center.