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Mayor calls for Almshouse to be taken off endangered list

Bruchey says historic building will not be torn down

April 19, 2010|By DAN DEARTH
  • The Almshouse at 239 N. Locust St. was built in the late 18th century to house the poor and mentally ill.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- Hagerstown's mayor is calling for a preservation group to consider removing one of the city's oldest landmarks from a list of the top endangered historical sites in Maryland because there are no plans to destroy the structure.

In a letter dated March 21, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II asked Preservation Maryland to remove the Almshouse at 239 N. Locust St. from the organization's 2010 List of Endangered Maryland Historical Sites.

"It's not going to be destroyed," Bruchey said in a telephone interview earlier this month. "I don't see any way, shape or form that it's going to be tore down."

The Almshouse was built in the late 18th century to house the poor and mentally ill.

According to city documents, "Period descriptions of the living conditions were very critical and the community struggled over the best manner to improve the life of those unfortunates confined here."

The structure also is rumored to have been a hospital during the Civil War.

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As many as 200 Union soldiers and 39 Confederate soldiers were buried on the property, documents show. The Union dead were disinterred in 1867 and taken to Antietam National Cemetery near Sharpsburg. In 1874, the Confederates were reburied at the Washington Confederate Cemetery within Rose Hill Cemetery off South Potomac Street.

Bruchey wrote in the letter that the city purchased the Almshouse for $90,000 in 2004 with the intent of razing the structure and putting a parking lot in its place.

"This concept was soon rejected by the mayor and council when the extent of the historic nature of the building was made known," Bruchey wrote. "Significant research by volunteers and city staff created a file of historical information on the site."

Bruchey said the city used an $85,000 Community Legacy Grant "to mothball the building and protect it from further deterioration."

In 2005, the city issued Requests for Proposals to develop the property. Two developers showed interest, he said, but the project never came to fruition.

More recently, city officials installed a Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area interpretive marker in front of the property to denote its historical significance.

"The Almshouse was one of the first public buildings in Hagerstown the Confederate army would have passed as they entered on their retreat after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863," the marker says. "Although there is no conclusive proof, it is generally believed that the Almshouse property was briefly used as a Confederate army hospital."

Pat Schooley, a board member of the Washington County Historical Society, said she was one of a group of three or four people who asked Preservation Maryland to put the Almshouse on the most endangered list.

She said city officials have been "caring," but they haven't moved fast enough to find a suitable use for the property.

"They've done everything but get it in an owner's hands," Schooley said. "This is an 18th-century almshouse. It's a part of our history. It needs to be saved."

She said the Almshouse has a strong foundation and could be renovated at a price comparable to demolishing the building and constructing a new one in its place.

Schooley said she would like to see someone buy the property and live there. The three-story building also could be modified for business use on the bottom floor and residential use on the top floors.

"It's a residential area," she said. "It could be divided into a number of units and rented."

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