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Allegheny Energy finds value in preserving a piece of history

April 09, 1999

At a time when both large and small businesses are signaling with bulldozers and wrecking crews that Washington County's past isn't nearly as important as their future plans, one local corporation has quietly decided to take a stand on behalf of history.

It's Allegheny Power, whose Friendship Technology Park was recently in the news when the electric utility donated 20 acres for a new University of Maryland campus.

That wasn't the first time I'd heard about the park, located on the opposite side of Interstate 70 from Martin L. "Marty" Snook County Park. But I'd assumed that the "Friendship" in this park's name was dreamed up by some corporate marketer eager to create an impression of a business park with a welcoming atmosphere.

Not so. According to Midge Teahan, director of corporate communications, the name comes from an historic house on the property called "David's Friendship." And, Teahan said, far from seeing the old stone home as an impediment to development, Allegheny has carefully renovated the property to be a cornerstone of the business park.

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Given that it's on a level piece of ground, the lot on which the house sits could easily accommodate a more modern building. Why has Allegheny chosen to leave it standing?

"In this area there's a tremendous regard for history, and that house has stood there strong and proud for centuries," Teahan said.

According to Teahan, the home was built by in 1780 by J. Funk, one of a group of Maryland settlers who were lured to an area of Washington County then known as Marsh Head, because of its rich farmland and five springs that provided fresh water. It was eventually passed on to David Funk, thus the name "David's Friendship."

According to research published in Allegheny Power's monthly magazine, the house is "an example of traditional German folk and Georgian architecture."

It features segmental arch windows, coursed masonry stone walls, diagonal fireplaces and the use of wrought-iron strap hinges. The publication notes that these and other features qualify it for admission to the National Register of Historic Homes.

But though the house had stood for more than a century, and had even been used as a residence by tenant farmers over the years, Teahan said that by the 1980s, it was in need of some major work.

"The house was showing a great deal of disrepair," she said.

At that point, Allegheny made a decision in favor of preservation, Teahan said, and went to work with some local experts to make sure nothing they did would detract from the house's historic value.

Teahan said the windows were redone, the outside porches were replaced and the stone walls were repointed. After research showed that the roofs of the era when it was built were probably cedar shingles, Allegheny spent $30,000 to install that kind of a roof.

"It was all done in keeping with the historical significance of the home," she said.

"All in all, we spent in excess of $50,000," she said.

So what's the next step in re-using the property?

"We're looking for a development partner right now, and looking forward to working with that partner on making David's Friendship a cornerstone of the park, as an office for the development partner, perhaps," she said.

Will it need much more work?

"I have personally been through it, and it's amazing what good shape it's in," she said.

The park itself is poised to be the site of some of the most intensive development the county has seen as in the past 20 years, for a couple of reasons.

Though the property is not far from Interstates 70 and 81, Allegheny officials wanted more direct access and successfully lobbied to get a new I-70 interchange that would bring traffic right to the site. And recently, after a proposal surfaced for a new University of Maryland campus here, Allegheny donated 20 of the park's 280 acres for that purpose.

In the past I've written that history is important because it reminds us that whatever we accomplish, we're able to do so in part because someone came before us, settling the land, building roads and creating a community where citizens donate their time to help each other and a variety of good causes.

As this park fills with students and high-tech industries, it's good to remember that the property was available for these good purposes because more than two centuries ago, a man named J. Funk was a good steward of the land.




Bob Maginnis is the editorial page editor of the Herald-Mail newspapers.

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