Farmstead faces uncertain future

Historic, unoccupied farmstead situated on airport property

Historic, unoccupied farmstead situated on airport property

March 22, 2009|BY TIFFANY ARNOLD

The nearly decade-long debate over what should happen to the Brumbaugh-Kendle-Grove Farmstead could be compared to a complex movie plot.

A historic, albeit unoccupied, farmstead is on the same property as the Hagerstown Regional Airport. The federal government says the farmstead poses security risks and wants to tear it down or move it. State and local preservationist groups want to find another use for the building because it's historically significant.

And so the plot goes, with all characters involved grappling with the same set of questions - to preserve or not to preserve.

Sounds simple, but this is the world of historic preservation. When money and emotions are involved, said historians and executives from national preservation groups, there are rarely any clear-cut, yes or no answers.


The folks interviewed for this story were not asked to speculate on the fate of the Brumbaugh-Kendle-Grove Farmstead. They were asked to talk about the broader issues that most preservation attempts face.

The consensus: It's a messy, complicated process. But the best way to save a historic structure is for that structure to have some sort of use. Being considered historic isn't enough to save a structure from destruction.

"It's very much a case-by-case basis," said Pauline Saliga, executive director of the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH). The Chicago-based nonprofit promotes the study and preservation of historic architecture.

"There are lots of people trying to save things," said Judith Sheridan, secretary-treasurer of The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM), a nonprofit based in Ohio.

"But it depends on the type of support you have from your constituents," Sheridan said. "You have to have someone who really wants to save it."

Security risk? Or historic structure?

The Brumbaugh-Kendle-Grove Farmstead is a collection of 18th- and 19th-century farm buildings. Federal officials have said that the farmstead poses a security risk. The Federal Aviation Administration has periodically requested permits to demolish the farmstead. Airport officials and the Airport Advisory Commission have also suggested moving the farmstead's structures.

Recently, Washington County and federal government officials reached a preliminary agreement that would give a third party a chance to do something with the farmstead, said county spokesman Norman Bassett.

On Monday, County Attorney John Martirano provided The Herald-Mail with a copy of the draft agreement. While adaptive reuse - using the existing structures for something aviation-related - was listed as the preferred course of action, other options included moving the structures or dismantling them and preserving some of the farmstead's architectural elements for third-party use.

Demolition, according to the draft agreement, is a last resort.

Moving toward resolution

Throughout the debate on the Brumbaugh-Kendle-Grove Farmstead, members of the Maryland Historical Trust - a part of the state's Department of Planning - and the county-appointed Washington County Historical Advisory Committee said that government officials did thoroughly consider alternatives, such as adaptive reuse.

Pat Schooley, secretary of the Washington County Historical Advisory Committee, said the other options - moving or dismantling the farmstead - were as unappealing to her as demolition.

"That's just a waste of a perfectly good resource," said Schooley, who is also president of the Washington County Historical Trust. Schooley also writes bimonthly profiles of historical properties in Washington County for The Herald-Mail.

Martirano also provided The Herald-Mail with a letter the FAA mailed to the Maryland Historical Trust, the Washington County Historical Trust, the Washington County Historical Society and the Washington County planning department.

In the letter, the FAA asked the recipients to review the draft agreement and offer comments by April 24.

The bigger picture?

Saliga, of the SAH, said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to determining whether a structure is historically significant.

In some instances, historical value is obvious, because a structure is one of a kind - "Unique in all the world," Saliga said.

Sometimes, a structure is deemed historically significant because it's a standing, well-preserved example of a design element specific to a certain region or moment in history.

"You have to value what is typical for your area," Saliga said.

A 2001 survey initiated by the Maryland Historical Trust suggested that the Brumbaugh-Kendle-Grove Farmstead was an "intact" example of local farm architecture in the 18th and 19th century. It reflected what life was like for the county's early settlers - reasons why it is historically valuable, according to the survey.

While again, they weren't asked to speculate on the Washington County farmstead, the historians and preservationists interviewed for this story said that much can be gained from preserving original artifacts and structures, particularly for educational purposes.

"You can't replace them," said Sheridan, of the ALHFAM.

Historian C. Fred Williams is the executive secretary for the Agricultural History Society, housed within the University of Arkansas's history department.

Williams said working from written documents can be limiting for researchers, who get a better sense of a building's construction and layout by seeing it in the flesh, what he called the "emotion" of a period in history.

"Reading it, you create in your mind what it looks like," he said.

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