With an air of enthusiasm sweeping through the pavilion last week at St. Mary's Church in Barnesville, 35 town residents gave unanimous approval for the Town Council to seek a place on the National Register of Historic Districts.

More than 50 people from the nearby area showed up at the special Town Council session, which is usually held at the home of Town Clerk Julia Jeffers and which usually attracts no more than a half-dozen spectators. The meeting was held to discuss how Barnesville might be listed as an historic site, thereby making it harder for the town to be overrun by development.

Residents listened as Michael F. Dwyer, historian for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and Cherilyn Widell, a representative from the state Association of Historic Districts, explained how the town's 18th-century homes, shaded streets and church buildings--the entire town, in fact--could be declared historic.

Dwyer outlined two plans the council could pursue, Jeffers said. State laws allow any municipality to create its own historic preservation ordinance, which would provide greater protection from development than would a federal listing. But it would also restrict residents from altering their properties in many cases, Dwyer said.

But by persuading the Maryland Historical Trust to accept Barnesville as an historic site, the council could then apply to be included on the the U.S. Park Service's National Register of Historic Districts, Dwyer said. That designation would allow Barnesville residents to alter their homes as they wish, but would restrict federally funded projects, including highways and water treatment projects--the most likely threats to Barnesville's pastoral setting.

"The national we're going for first," Jeffers said. "It's less restrictive and it does help prevent the encroachment of highways or trash dumps."