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CHIEF meeting draws historic preservationists

September 23, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Local historic preservation advocates unhappy over the Hagerstown/Washington County Industrial Foundation's demolition of one of Washington County's oldest houses took advantage of a once-a-year opportunity to attend a meeting of the group on Thursday.

The quasi-public development agency, known as CHIEF, drew about a dozen nonmembers to its annual board of members meeting at the Tortuga Restaurant in Hagerstown.

It's the only meeting that CHIEF, created in 1960, opens to the public.

This year's high turnout was unusual, said CHIEF President Merle S. Elliott, who said it was only the second time more than one person from the public attended the annual open meeting.

Many were prompted by CHIEF's demolition of the Kammerer House in April as part of a land deal with Citicorp Credit Services Inc.

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Anticipating questions as to why Citicorp didn't buy the land after the house was torn down as part of the deal, Elliott said he was prevented from revealing the reasons by an agreement between CHIEF and Citicorp.

Elliott said CHIEF had a good-faith agreement with Citicorp and followed all the legal steps regarding the Kammerer House, a two-story farmhouse built in 1774.

Architectural historian Merry Stinson said she questioned how CHIEF could reconcile the part of its mission statement about maintaining and improving quality of life in the community with tearing down the Kammerer House.

Elliott said he tried to save the house, but CHIEF is in the business of economic development and had an opportunity to sell the property.

Until the rescue effort prompted by the planned demolition, no one had tried to save the Kammerer House in the decades CHIEF owned the property, he said.

Its only historical significance was that its builder, Johan Ludwig Kammerer, was believed to have sailed to America on the same ship as Hagerstown's founder, Jonathan Hager, he said.

Yvonne Hope, chairwoman of the Washington County Historical Trust, said she felt the fact that the people of Washington County thought the Kammerer House was worth preserving wasn't sufficiently weighed in CHIEF's decision to tear it down.

Even if the Citicorp transaction hadn't come along, Elliott said he's not sure CHIEF wouldn't have ended up demolishing the Kammerer buildings - surrounded by Citicorp-owned buildings and parking lots.

The deed is done and there's no point dwelling on it, he said.

"It's gone. It's over. Get over it," Elliott said.

Washington County Historical Society member Pat Schooley, part of an ad hoc group that tried to save the 18th-century house, said she was giving Elliott some material on historical preservation and its economic value.

Schooley said she hoped it would change the way he looked at it.

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