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Hotel fire demonstrates how area values history

February 26, 2008

In the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the historic Boone Hotel in Boonsboro, there is one bit of good news - attitudes in Washington County have progressed to the point where the destruction of an historic building makes many people sad.

It wasn't always so. In 1999, the oldest house in Washington County, built by Johna Ludwig Kammerer in 1774, was demolished, although not before a battle was waged by historical preservationists.

That same year, a 1770s area log house built on Mount Aetna Road by Conrad Hogmire, one of the original county commissioners, was torn down.

Hogmire's former holdings have had a tough time of it. In February 1991, a 1793 Dual Highway property that in more recent times housed an antique shop was flattened in the dead of night.

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But in the last decade, it seems as if the idea that historic structures have value and can be re-used profitably has gained credibility, even among those not involved in preservation groups.

When Allegheny Energy put together its Friendship Technology Park in the 1990s, it chose to preserve a 1780 farmhouse built by J. Funk, one of the county's earliest settlers.

In 1999, Midge Teahan, an Allegheny spokesperson, said the firm chose to preserve the old home because "In this area there's a tremendous regard for history, and that house has stood there strong and proud for centuries."

Also in the 1990s, when Joseph Walker of Hagers-town wanted to demolish what might have been the last single-family home in downtown Hagerstown near Public Square because he was unable to sell it, developer Don Bowman made it part of his $2.6 million South Potomac Street revitalization project.

More recently, in 2005, Faison Development Inc., builders of the new Lowe's on Md. 60 (Leitersburg Pike), pledged to renovate and re-use the old stone house on the Shank Farm property.

Much of this change in attitude is due to the work of Pat Schooley, who has researched and written more than 100 profiles of historic properties in Washington County.

Once you know the history of a property and how it fits into what happened in the decades afterward, it's easier to feel that such a piece of the past is worth preserving.

Schooley is a preservationist, but not to the point of insisting on historically perfect restorations.

In 1998, Schooley told Herald-Mail reporter Kate Coleman that, "It's better to save the building somehow. We can't have the mindset that every old building must be a museum."

Not every old home can be preserved as it was at the time it was built. But maintaining whatever can be saved is a worthwhile task.

Without history, some tend to forget that we are here, in large part because, more than 100 years ago, some settlers came here and did what they could to improve the area.

They did that not only for themselves, but for their fellow citizens. Hogmire, mentioned previously, took on the role of county commissioner because there was a need for him to serve, not because government salaries were lavish.

Nora Roberts and her husband, Bruce Wilder, have decided that they can bring their property back from the ashes.

We're confident the community and local government will do as much as possible to make sure that the fire was just one part of the building's history and not its final chapter.

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