Kammerer House, 1774, North Washington County, MD

Kammerer House, 1774Just south of the Pennsylvania state line near Interstate 81, the efficient, modern buildings of Citicorp are fanned out around an 18th century farmstead. Tucked in the center of this banking complex at the corner of two new streets is the story-and-a-half stone house that Ludwig Kammerer built in 1774 and the frame barn that was rebuilt about 1910 after a fire. Here is a tranquil pause amid the bustle of a busy corporation. This continuum of history spans more than two centuries in a modern business center.

Ludwig Kammerer, who emigrated from Germany on the same ship as Jonathan Hager, purchased a tract of land called Beechspring and part of a tract called The Resurvey on Plumb’s Doubt. Here he built his home straddling a spring. Kammerer lived in his house until 1806 when he sold the farm to David Brumbach for £500 and moved near Pittsburgh, Pennsylania with his family. Three years later, he died at the age of 90. This farm has had only four owners. It remained in the Brumbach/Hartle family until 1961 when J. Allen and Elizabeth Clopper were the high bidders for the farm, then part of Charles Hartle’s estate. The Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation (CHIEF) purchased the remaining 109 acres from the Cloppers in 1985. CHIEF developed the farm for Citicorp, which now owns about two-thirds of the land.

The house has a massive center chimney, similar to the Hager House as it was before its roof was raised to accommodate a full second story. A small entry hall on the first floor has a set of steep, turned stairs to the attic level that is enclosed with hand-planed, beaded boards. There are three rooms on the main floor. Windows have six-over-six sashes set in pegged frames, and the woodwork is simple with mitered corners and a beaded edge. Chair rails circle these rooms. In the upper level, the walls are made of beaded planks. To the north is a frame wing that was probably added before 1910. Porches extend across the east side of the wing and the south side of the original block of the house, where its roof is supported by square, chamfered posts.

The basement, which opens at ground level on the west, contains three rooms. The first has a fireplace nine feet wide with a simple mantel. Beside it is an arched opening that is now filled with brick. The rear rooms contain the spring, now held in concrete channels, and food storage areas. Narrow, winding stairs with a batten-door cupboard beneath the steps lead to the first floor.

A year ago, the land around the house was considered part of the storm water management system; and the buildings were not at risk. Merle Elliott, head of the foundation, was concerned about the old buildings. A buyer was found for the barn; and renovations began, then stalled. Eventually, CHIEF bought the barn back. Now there is a new deal pending for the remaining 36 acres of land, and Merle Elliott says that the buildings will be removed, probably a condition of this sale. A demolition permit has been issued for the barn, and Elliott says that the house will be removed or demolished too.

And there is the problem: property rights head-to-head with preservation, the community’s desire to save significant parts of the past, to maintain the status quo. No historic preservation ordinances exist in Washington County, and no consensus exists to create them. However, citizens must consider the way the county is to grow and what is to be saved before the development that has overtaken Montgomery County, then Frederick County, envelops us, and there is nothing left to save. Many of our fine, old buildings will be rescued by their owners; but the fabric of the county, the way the buildings relate to one another and to the landscape will be lost if we do not agree that this is important to our quality of life. There is much to lose: we have more listed historic sites in this county than in any other in the state. We have lovely rural landscapes and charming crossroads communities that delight us all. We have 70 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and more under consideration. This amazing wealth of structure and landscape is what defines Washington County. It is what draws people here.

Historic preservation is often seen as “feel-good” but impractical, with no bottom-line value to it. This is not true. Studies show that the value of preservation is enormous. Not only do historic districts increase the value of the properties in them, but the value to the community of restoration over new construction is considerable. According to Donovan D. Rypkema in The Value of Historic Preservation in Maryland, on a $1,000,000 project, $120,000 more will stay in the community when that money is spent on rehabilitation rather than new construction. Five to nine more construction jobs will be created and almost five new jobs created elsewhere in the community with rehabilitation. There will be $34,000 more retail sales and $107,000 more in household incomes from the rehabilitation project. It costs less to rehabilitate than to build a new building, four percent on average, and up to sixteen percent if demolition is required before a new structure can be built. It costs less energy to rehabilitate. The Army has found its rehabilitation costs to be about one-quarter to one-third of replacement costs.

An often-overlooked benefit of historic preservation is tourism. Visitors to historic areas spend on average $62 more each day than other tourists and stay a day or two longer. Washington County has a unique array of early architecture, Civil War sites, stone bridges and beautiful landscapes, which could be promoted in this growing industry, one that already provides ten percent of the gross income in Maryland. If we do not carefully plan our development, we will lose those things that these tourists come to see.

Often, old structures are run down, therefore unattractive, and new uses cannot be imagined. “What will we do with it?” is often answered with, “Tear it down”. But old buildings can be used in many ways. Barns become restaurants and elegant, modern homes; schools can be recycled into senior centers, community buildings or homes. Plans were drawn to use the house and barn at Fox Deceived as the focal point of an elegant shopping center. Even so, the owner destroyed these buildings. Ludwig Kammerer’s house could be a bed and breakfast or the heart of a new restaurant. Or it could go to the Middleburg/Mason-Dixon Line Historical Society, which has offered to restore the home as their headquarters.

Once a building is torn down, it is gone forever. 1774 houses aren’t being built anymore. Adaptive reuse of old structures makes them useful in new ways, and we need to think in creative and imaginative ways to find these uses.

In 1790, Washington County had only 2,452 families; and fewer than ten percent of their homes were built of stone. Dr. Paula Reed, an architectural historian, found twelve pre-1780 stone homes still standing in the county in 1978. Six of these were continental or Germanic plan, that is having a central chimney with rooms ranged around it as in the Kammerer House. About 90 percent of our 18th century population was Germanic, so this building type is an important thread of our history. Any 18th century survival is important, Reed says, because there weren’t that many people here, and there were so few buildings. The Kammerer House is important too, because it is small. Small houses were typical of the 18th century but were less likely to survive than larger homes. This building is one of the few houses in the county with a date stone, and only one of these is older than the Kammerer house.

Merle Elliott has agreed to allow the house to be evaluated by experts who will be able to define its historic importance and put a price on its restoration. Perhaps a way can be found to save Ludwig Kammerer’s home. In the meantime, we must wrestle with the problem of what kind of a county we want to be and how we can achieve those ends. Certainly not all that is old deserves to be saved, but here is a remarkable building that speaks to our roots. Can a way be found to use Ludwig Kammerer’s house again? Can the new owners of this property be persuaded to be good stewards of this part of Washington County history?

Epilogue: A massive effort was made to save the Kammerer house. CHIEF and Citicorp offered a plot of land, a house mover was found and money sources were found. In the end, the plan was rejected and the house was demolished during April 1999.

This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, March 15,1998 as an op-ed commentary piece.BookBanner