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Baldwin House said worth preserving

June 22, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Exterior architectural characteristics of the Baldwin House in downtown Hagerstown make it a structure worth preserving, Maryland Historical Trust Director Rodney Little said Thursday.

The Baldwin House complex, a former hotel, department store and warehouse at 32-48 W. Washington St. now owned by the city, has been selected for the planned $12.5 million University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

Earlier this week, state officials announced the buildings would be renovated despite a recommendation from a private engineering firm that the Baldwin House be demolished. Officials said the building's historical significance played a primary role in the decision to reject that recommendation.

"It's a type of Mansard building that was once very popular in Maryland," Little said, about the Baldwin House. "It's one of the best examples in the state of that type of architecture."

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According to City of Hagerstown documents, the Baldwin House stands on the site of two earlier hostelries: The Washington House, which was built in 1856 and burned down in 1879, and the Globe Tavern, where George Washington is said to have stayed during a visit to Hagerstown.

The original four-story Baldwin House was built in 1881. In October 1914, fire extensively damaged the building, especially the east side. In 1915, the east side of the building was demolished and a new structure was built.

Also at that time, "decorative detailing" was added to the rest of the facade of the Baldwin House, and additional floors were added to both ends of the building. Most of the exterior detailing was done in the 1880s, according to city records.

Little said the state officially considers the Baldwin House a "key building" in the nationally registered Hagerstown historic district.

In addition to being a good example of a "rare and disappearing" 19th century architecture, Little said the building "was a real center of life" and was "one of the largest buildings in town" in the late 19th century.

Also, there are some interior walls Little said would hopefully be preserved. Those walls are marbleized, which Little said is a form of painting and graining that simulates marble.

Pat Schooley, secretary of the Washington County Historical Society, said the building is an important part of the historic streetscape of downtown Hagerstown.

"And they're part of a very important time in Hagerstown's history, 1880 to 1920 was when the boom was on in Hagerstown," Schooley said.

Paula Stoner Reed, an architectural historian who evaluated the downtown historical buildings for the city in the 1980s, said the Baldwin House represents the city during its "heyday."

"That's our past. It represents what Hagerstown was and is," Reed said.

Little said state recognition of the building as historical does not prohibit its demolition. But he said state policy is to renovate instead of demolish historic buildings, so long as it can be done and is financially feasible. Little said the renovation or demolition of the building would cost about the same.

Kurt Cushwa, the owner of Design/Build Architects in Hagerstown who presented plans for renovating the buildings last year, said, "It's nice to see that logic did win out in the end."

"It's going to be less expensive and better," Cushwa said, about the decision to renovate instead of demolish the Baldwin House.

Because the university center is a state project, it is not subject to local planning or zoning review. But Little said typically the state will go to through the local review process as a courtesy. He said the historical trust will review the renovation plans as they are being developed.

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