Open house draws resident curator hopefuls

July 21, 1998

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer


Widmeyer HouseBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

BIG POOL - Michele Dyer sees the Widmyer House as a connection to her long-lost ancestors who lived in a simpler time.

Doug Rowland, who grew up in the house, views it as a link to his childhood.

John and Coleen Sharon look at the house as an opportunity to avoid a mortgage.

But they have one thing in common - they're all interested in becoming resident curators at the Widmyer House on the edge of Fort Frederick State Park.

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The person or family chosen by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources gets to live in the house for life without paying taxes or rent.


The catch? They have to restore the house, which has fallen into disrepair.

Twenty-three families came to an open house there on Monday.

"I thought there'd be hundreds of people here today," said Michele Dyer, 35, a Clear Spring organic gardener with an intense interest in her ancestors who lived in the area.

"I'm glad there's not," said her husband, Gilbert Dyer, 40, an electrical inspector.

Before they left Monday, their sons Dustin, 12, and Derek, 9, already had chosen which rooms would be their bedrooms.

After looking at the house, Michele Dyer took the opportunity to visit the grave of her great-great-grandfather, Martin Roof, at the nearby Mt. Carmel Church Cemetery.

Even though she grew up in Hagerstown, Michele Dyer said she never felt like "a local" in Washington County until she started reading genealogy books a few years ago.

She discovered that an ancestor, Capt. John Kershner (1740-1822), helped guard Fort Frederick during the French and Indian War.

Dyer may feel like she has a birthright to the property, but Doug Rowland has a more recent connection.

Rowland, 26, a Hagerstown carpenter, lived there from the time he was 2 until he was a teenager. His family had horses, cows and chickens and grew fruit and vegetables on the small farm.

"I just feel if anybody should have the right, it should be me," he said. "This is my childhood."

His disabled father, Patrick Rowland, rented the house until 1996, he said.

Doug Rowland is interested in the property. He isn't bothered by the fact that he would never own the land.

"Don't matter what you buy or what you own. You can't take it with you," he said.

John and Coleen Sharon own a home in Cearfoss and said they would rather put the money into this historic house than pay a mortgage company.

Coleen Sharon, who was raised on a farm in Downsville, also sees it as an opportunity to get back to her roots.

"City life just doesn't cut it when you're used to having dirt between your toes and under your fingernails," she said.

The Sharons are both state employees and have three sons, ages 18, 8 and 7.

The two-story Widmyer House was built in the late 1800s. Brown asbestos shingles cover up its original clapboard siding.

The well water and septic system appear to be adequate, but there is no heat and the electrical system needs to be updated.

It won't take much to make the house livable, but it will take an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 to restore its original charm, according to state estimates.

Resident curators are allowed to count their own sweat-equity toward meeting the requirements of the curatorship.

Statewide, the state has created 40 resident-curatorships, said Charlie Mazurek, historic site surveyor for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The state held an open house Monday for a second house they are seeking a curator for - the Foultz Plantation House in Beaver Creek. Eight people attended.

The people who are interested in the two houses have until Sept. 20 to submit a proposal. Resident curators will be chosen by the end of the year.

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