Future of mansion uncertain

November 10, 1997

Future of mansion uncertain


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARLOWE, W.Va. - "Tara it isn't," Hal Dunham said Thursday, making a somewhat unfavorable comparison between Maidstone and the fictional O'Hara plantation in "Gone With the Wind."

The branches of trees form a canopy over the long lane that leads to the manor house from McKowan Road, but the brick steps are partially covered with moss and the four white pillars of the porch are rotting at their bases.

Behind the house a cinderblock carport long ago replaced the three-tiered balcony. There's still a smokehouse, but other 19th-century barns and outbuildings have given way to functional metal sheds.


Dunham and his wife Lyn, of Falling Waters, W.Va., are two of the 21 members on the board of directors of the William Robinson Leigh Foundation. The foundation was formed in the summer of 1996 to save the antebellum manor that was the boyhood home of Leigh, an artist famed for his depictions of life and landscape in the Old West.

Those hopes have been set back by the pending sale and development of the 267 remaining acres of the plantation, which Dunham said once comprised 3,000 acres and spread down to the banks of the Potomac.

Dunham said Maidstone is a typical plantation home of the era. Built in 1848 of imported English brick, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places and a bronze plaque on the front door tells that it is a Berkeley County historical landmark.

Dunham said the foundation had been looking for a corporate "angel" to buy the entire property, but none of the companies contacted bought into the project.

He said the foundation also tried to interest the state in the property.

"As far as American Trust Bank is concerned, it is sold. We just haven't gone to settlement," said Bill Walker, a relationship banking specialist with the bank. Walker said the settlement could happen in the next two to four weeks.

Walker said he could not name the buyer, but on Oct. 20 the Berkeley County Planning Commission approved final plans for the first of six sections of Maidstone Estates, submitted by Highlands of the Potomac Limited Liability Co. of Clarksburg, Md.

That section includes 20 lots on 17.5 acres. The property is owned by the bank, which Dunham said acquired it when a previous development plan fell through.

"We can't do anything without any money, anyway," Dunham said Sunday.

In addition to purchasing the manor house, the foundation members had dreamed of operating the property as a "living plantation" and museum that would attract artists, tourists, students and researchers.

That would have required a significant amount of money. According to Dunham, the last quote he had for the property was about $850,000.

Restoring the manor house, building a museum and other improvements could have run into millions of dollars.

The developer could still decide to sell the house separately and Dunham isn't ruling out the possibility of the foundation finding the financial resources to buy the manor.

"We still have letters in the mail," he said.

Even if that does not come to pass, Dunham said the foundation has "people working now developing educational programs and an art contest. We definitely want a program to go to the schools with so students can learn about Leigh."

A museum is still not out of the question, either.

The Leigh family moved to Martinsburg, W.Va., after falling on hard times after the Civil War and Dunham said a museum there would be appropriate.

Don Wood, president of the Berkeley County Historical Society, said the farm has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980, but that affords no protection against development.

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