A home on public land

June 25, 1998|By PAT SCHOOLEY

Big Pool Home

Editor's note: This is the 104th in a series of articles about the historic and architectural treasures of Washington County.

Would you like to live in a historic home on state-owned land, buffered from neighbors, and pay no rent, no mortgage and no real estate taxes?

What's the catch?

You get all the aggravation, effort and expense of restoring and maintaining the home that you don't own.

--cont from lifestyle--

If you are still interested, you might want to catch up with Ross Kimmel, supervisor of Cultural Resources Management for the Forest and Park Service of Department of Natural Resources, at an open house Monday, July 20, when he will offer tours of two homes in Washington County eligible for the resident-curatorship program.

Department of Natural Resources is the largest landowner in Maryland - more than 370,000 acres - and is mandated to save our streams and forests, raise fish and build playgrounds. Sometimes, in acquiring land for these purposes, DNR becomes the owner of historically significant properties. For decades it ignored many of these properties because there were no funds to support them. It would rent a building until the structure became unusable from lack of maintenance and then let the place collapse from benign neglect.


Needless to say, this management practice drew criticism, and, in 1982, the first curatorship was created.

Private individuals contract with DNR to restore a property at their own expense in return for the right to use that property for the rest of their lives. Not a bad deal. They have no mortgage, no property taxes, no rent and may get tax savings for the restoration work they give to the state. A lot of sweat equity and money up front translate into a home for life.

A place in Big Pool

One of the houses available for curatorship in Washington County is near Fort Frederick, on a gravel lane that passes Mount Carmel Church cemetery off Big Pool Road.

It sits on fairly flat land surrounded by woods and faces east.

It was built on stone foundations around 1880 or 1890, and has German lap siding covered with imitation brick asphalt shingles. The house has five bays, a center entrance, and a porch across the front with original beaded side trim and peaked headers.

StaircaseThe main door opens into a center hall with a staircase that still has the original turned newel and balusters. This hall opens to rooms on the right and left and into the kitchen at the rear. There are four bedrooms upstairs and a closed stairway to the unfinished attic. The framing of the roof is solid, and the tin roof appears to be intact.

(photo, right: KEVIN G. GILBERT)

A cinderblock room has been added to the back of the house off the kitchen, and there is a partial basement under the south side of the building.

Heat was provided by a now-missing wood stove, and the hot water heater is partially submerged, but there is an iron-rich well and a septic system in place. Several of the rooms have been paneled with 4-by-8-feet sheet goods. Most of the interior woodwork is original, and the basic structure is sound.

In 1866, Jackson Murray purchased a two-acre parcel of land from George Cook and his wife for $73. Two years later, Murray bought 2 1/2 adjacent acres for $62.

It isn't known what buildings were there, if any; but Sarah, Samuel and John Murray, heirs of Jackson Murray, sold their interests in the property in 1883 for $300 to Thomas Widmyer and his wife, also an heir of Jackson Murray's.

It was probably the Widmyers who built the house. The Widmyers sold the property in 1918 to Charles and Zeta Kaylor for $1,300, and it was Zeta Kaylor who deeded the property to the DNR in 1974 while retaining a life estate. Here is a house that needs very little to be habitable, but more effort will be required if its original charm is to be restored.

Home near the hatchery

The other property available sits atop the cavern that produces water for Albert M. Powell Fish Hatchery on Md. 66 near the entrance to Interstate 70. The stone house has quoined corners and probably was built between 1820 and 1835.

A Victorian porch and two-over-two windows were added during a later renovation, but most of the interior finishes are original to the house. The front entrance is in the middle of three bays. The door jamb is paneled in wood and topped by a three-light transom with original glass.

Two rooms separated by an enclosed staircase to the second floor fill the main block of the house. The room on the south has a fireplace with an early mantel. Both rooms have chair rail, baseboards and narrow board floors under layers of linoleum.

A frame wing has been added to the rear of the building, and there are two rooms in this section as well. A nondescript porch follows the south side of this wing, and a cinder block utility porch has been added to the north.

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