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Of trout and toxins

Built over a fish hatchery, the historic Foltz House cannot be easily renovated

Built over a fish hatchery, the historic Foltz House cannot be easily renovated

July 27, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

About this series



Editor's note: This is the third story in a bimonthly series about local preservation efforts, an exploration of what motivates people to preserve historic sites or not to preserve them and how these decisions affect us all.

Here's what's coming up in the series:

o Price's Bridge, spans Conococheague Creek near the Pennsylvania border.

The deteriorated five-arch stone bridge was built in 1822 to replace a wooden structure and is typical of early 19th-century bridges in Washington County.

o Brumbaugh-Kendle-Grove farmstead, near Hagerstown Regional Airport.




SMITHSBURG - If the historic Foltz House were anywhere other the Albert Powell Fish Hatchery near Smithsburg, it would not be caught in such a stalemate.

The house was built over underground caves and springs, what state officials say is one of the best places in the state to raise trout. As a result, the house cannot be easily renovated and inhabited. Conversely, it can not be easily torn down.

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Either could have harmful effects for the hatchery.

So the house, owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, just sits there.

Descendants of the people who inhabited the house more than a century ago say they would like to see the house saved, but there's not much they can do.

"It would be so wonderful if some part of it could be preserved," said Judy Foltz Miller, of Williamsport. Miller can trace her family's history back six generations in Washington County.

Miller and her brother, Jerry Foltz, who lives in Centreville, Va., have been trying to piece their family's history together. The family does not know for sure when the house was built or who built it, but they think it might have been built in the early 1800s. It was said their ancestors hid livestock in the caves beneath the house during the Civil War, Miller said.

"They also said you could walk all the way to Cavetown in those caves," Miller said.

Henry C. Foltz, who Miller and Jerry Foltz believe was born in Foltz House, founded H.C. Foltz Co., now Foltz Manufacturing & Supply Co. The business is still family-owned, operating at the corner of East Washington and Locust streets in Hagerstown.

Henry C. Foltz's grandfather, John Foltz, was a German Calvinist and has ties to the county's early church history, Jerry Foltz said.

Land records provided by the family show the Foltz family sold the property in 1875. The property remained in private hands until 1975, when it was purchased by the Department of Natural Resources, according to land records obtained from Circuit Court.

Jerry Foltz, who visited the house recently, said from what he could tell, the house is still in good shape. The house is two stories and made of solid stone.

"I was amazed at how solid it is," he said. "It hasn't been fully trashed. It just hasn't been occupied for a while."

In many cases, uninhabited, state-owned homes like the Foltz House would be eligible for the state's Resident Curatorship program, said Bruce Alexander, manager of curatorship and cultural resources at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The state program allows a person to live in a historic property owned by DNR provided that the resident pledges to put up the money to restore and maintain it.

"If that house were anywhere else besides the hatchery, I'd be out there trying to do something with it right now," he said.

The problem is that construction at Foltz House would create environmental problems that could harm the hatchery, Alexander said. If someone were to live there, he said, they couldn't use chemicals such as those found in cleaning products, bleach and gasoline.

Don Cosden, DNR's chief of inland fisheries, said well drilling and faulty sewage systems could taint the spring water and harm the fish, as well. Conversely, Cosden said tearing down the property also could pose environmental risks.

"I don't know anyone who'd be willing to live like that and be willing to invest $150,000 to $200,000," Alexander said.

Albert Powell Fish Hatchery is tapped into one of the largest springs in Maryland, making it one of the best sites in Maryland to raise trout, Cosden said. Hatchery officials harvest between 200,000 and 300,000 trout a year, compared with between 20,000 and 40,000 at the state's other hatcheries. The trout help support ecosystems and are used to populate streams and ponds used for fishing during peak trout fishing months, Cosden said.

Alexander said he was not aware of any plans for Foltz House.

"I don't know what the future will hold," Alexander said. "We hope to find for some use for the property."

Meanwhile, the descendents of the Foltz House's inhabitants say they will continue to piece together their roots.

"I think for me it's an age thing," said Miller. "As you see the older members of your family declining, history becomes more important."

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