Frederick Piper's small clapboard farmhouse outside of Sharpsburg had only a small role in the bloody Civil War battle at Antietam.
The timbers of the house -- which served as the headquarters of Confederate Maj. Gen. James Longstreet -- have sagged and the exterior of the building is weather-worn. The home has been unoccupied since 1962, when it was sold to the National Park Service for the national battlefield park there.
But, by Memorial Day, developer Douglass C. Reed expects to have restored the house to the style of the 1850s and furnished it with antiques. The Piper House will become a four-suite, bed-and-breakfast inn, charging rates ranging from $35 to $65 a night.
The house is the first of 101 structures across the country that the Park Service hopes to lease to private developers willing to restore them to the agency's satisfaction. Some of the buildings are expected to become inns, others could become private homes, restaurants or offices. And in at least one case under review, a developer wants to convert a historic barn into a showroom for thoroughbred horses.
"We just don't have the money to do all of this work ourselves," said Susan Harrison, the Park Service's chief leasing official. "The properties that we're looking to lease are not intregal parts of the parks, but there are no reasons for us to let them collapse."
Reed, the president of Heritage House Inns Inc., agrees.
"Bulldozer bait is what I'm looking for," he said, gesturing to the Piper House's interior walls, where termites have chewed through bare logs. Reed eventually wants to develop a chain of guest houses.
Under the terms of a 56-year lease, Reed will pay the government $200 a month for Piper House. However, he has also agreed to make at least $150,000 worth of repairs to the property.
The Park Service came upon the idea as a way of repairing interesting properties for which no appropriations were available. Revenues from the leases, Harrison said, will be "used to maintain, repair and preserve historic property and to defray the costs of administering the program."
"We believe the historic leasing program is very attractive to private individuals and organizations who are willing to restore property at no cost to the taxpayers," said Manus J. (Jack) Fish, regional director of the Park Service.
All of the properties involved are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Locally, 15 properties may be leased. They include Harmony Hall, a 1726 Georgian revival building on 65 acres of land at Fort Washington on the Potomac River; Pennyfield House in the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park; Gambrill Mansion at Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick; the Salty Dog Tavern at Harpers Ferry; and the Sudley Post Office at the Manassas battlefield.
Other U.S. sites include the Boas Tailor & Furrier Shop at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Alaska; two wharfs at the Salem Maritime National Historical Site in Massachusetts; an old Lutheran Church at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in Pennsylvania; a lighthouse at the Fire Island National Seashore in New York; the old City Hall at the Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts; a coachhouse at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in New York; a lifeboat rescue station at the Point Reyes National Seashore in California, and five bathhouses at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.
"It is not the easiest thing to do, to screen proposals for a historic property," Harrison said. "We have to realize that 20th century uses are not always easily adapted to historic buildings, but some are. The lighthouse at Fire Island, for example, will be restored, but the only use the lessor wants is to put an antenna on top of it."
Some of the properties might eventually be razed if they can't be leased. For example, the Park Service says it may have to level the old Army exchange and gymnasium at Fort Washington if it receives no acceptable offers because the building is considered unsafe.
Besides Piper House, however, the Interior Department has leased only historic agricultural land. But interest is running strong.
At the Pea Ridge National Military Park in Arkansas, for example, the appraised value of the land was set at $2 to $3 per acre, but the sealed bids ranged from $7 to $53 per acre. Parks that now have agricultural land available for commercial leasing include Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania, the George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site in New York and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon.
Leases for buildings run for at least 15 years -- the minimum length of a time a developer must hold a property owned by a tax-exempt organization (such as the federal government) to be eligible for the federal tax credit available for historic rehabilitation work.