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Days numbered for Kemmerer House

December 30, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Over the objections of local historians, the owners of a 1774 farmhouse filed for a demolition permit Monday.

"Finally the time has run out. We will be moving forward with it as quickly as possible," said Merle Elliott, president of the Hagerstown/Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc., known as CHIEF.

CHIEF owns the two-story limestone house built by Johan Ludwig Kemmerer. The house is on a half-acre in the Airport Business Park.

Members of the Washington County Historical Society and the Middleburg/Mason-Dixon Line Area Historical Society had mounted a campaign to save the house.

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But raising the estimated $250,000 to $500,000 needed to move the house was impossible, even with the support of Kemmerer's descendants across the country, members said.

CHIEF said the house could not stay where it is, in the middle of an industrial park surrounded by parking lots and modern buildings owned by Citicorp.

"It's such a tiny parcel of land. It seems very sad that they can't spare that for the history of the county," said Pat Schooley, secretary of the Washington County Historical Society.

Elliott said CHIEF has offered to let the historical societies take anything they want from the house before it is torn down.

Kemmerer sailed to America in 1736 on the same ship as Hagerstown's founder, Jonathan Hager.

Schooley compared the Kemmerer House to the loss of the Rochester House at the corner of South Prospect and West Washington streets. The City of Hagerstown razed that house in 1953 to make room for a parking lot.

Schooley said there are economic gains to be made from incorporating historic buildings into modern development.

"When we make our community look like other communities, we lose our identity. When we lose our identity we lose our appeal for economic development," she said.

Schooley and Dick Hartle, a member of the Middleburg/Mason-Dixon Line Area Historical Society, said they believe Citicorp is pressuring CHIEF to demolish the house before purchasing the land on which it stands for a parking lot.

Citicorp spokesman Phil Kelly said the company wants to buy the land but tearing down the house is CHIEF's decision.

"CHIEF was going to remove that house whether Citicorp was buying the property or not. That's the way I understand it," Kelly said.

Elliott declined to comment.

"We're not going to let Citicorp off the hook," Hartle said. "They may get away with it but we're going to pass judgment one way or the other."

Hartle appealed to the company to consider buying and restoring the house.

"It would be a nice way to save our heritage and our history," he said.

The demolition permit application process takes a week to 10 days, said the Washington County Permits and Inspections office.

All demolition permits are reviewed by the Maryland Department of Environment.

Because there is a spring under the house, the permit also will be reviewed by the Maryland Water Resources Administration.

Because the house is on a list of the county's historic sites, the permit might be reviewed by the Washington County Historic District Commission.

The commission does not have the power to stop demolitions outside designated preservation zones, said Planner Steve Goodrich.

A final decision will be made by the permits office, he said.

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