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'Change of plans' led to backout, Citicorp says

July 18, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

When Citicorp Credit Services Inc. agreed last year to purchase the property on which the Kammerer house stood, the contract required that the historical structure be razed before settlement.

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At 8 a.m. on April 8, demolition of the 1774 farmhouse began. Last month, Citicorp reviewed its pending real estate deals and decided against buying the land, according to a company spokesman.

"It was a change of plans," Philip A. Kelly, Citicorp's vice president of external affairs, said Sunday.

"There was no deciding factor," he said.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc., known as CHIEF, owns the half-acre lot in the Airport Business Park. It planned to sell the land to Citicorp and both organizations signed a contract last year.

The contract specified CHIEF had to demolish the original home of Johan Ludwig Kammerer, a German immigrant who sailed to America on the same boat as Hagerstown's founder.

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The demolition had to be complete by the scheduled settlement in June, according to CHIEF President Merle Elliott. But at the end of last month, Citicorp representatives told him the deal was off. Elliott said Sunday he was surprised by the move.

The contract included a provision that enabled Citicorp to back out, according to Kelly. Elliott refused to comment on whether Citicorp had to pay CHIEF a penalty. He said the company's decision does not amount to a breach of contract.

Kelly emphasized that the company never had specific plans for the land. The decision to terminate the contract was made after a reevaluation of all its property transactions, he said.

"Somebody decided it wasn't worth purchasing," he said.

The property lies near the Pennsylvania state line. The two-story Kammerer house sat on the edge of a field next to a parking lot between a Citicorp office building and child care complex.

The building's destruction angered historians who said it was worth keeping. The Kammerer house was one of the county's oldest buildings.

It was considered a good example of colonial architecture, with original doors and windows, hand-hewn paneling and puncheon insulation made of wood and mortar in its limestone basement. It was built over a spring.

Preservationists said moving the house would have destroyed its historical value. Attempts to broker other land deals were unsuccessful.

Citicorp, the county's fourth largest employer, rejected an offer in March to buy the land and lease it to the Middleburg/Mason-Dixon Line Area Historical Society.

The recent discovery that the building's demolition may have been for nothing further frustrated historians.

Elliott said Sunday that CHIEF has two prospective buyers looking at the land.

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