- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The diminishing tobacco barns in Southern Maryland are on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2004 list of the 11 most endangered historic places in America.

Also making the list are the California home of the racehorse Seabiscuit, primal art in a Utah canyon, Detroit’s century-old Madison-Lenox Hotel, and the state of Vermont.

In Vermont’s case, the trust fears that big chain stores are clouding the “special magic” atmosphere created by the state’s fall foliage, quaint towns and covered bridges.

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the nation is universally responsible for the problem.

“Unless all of us become aware of the importance of our heritage and take action to preserve it, America’s past won’t have a future,” he said. “That’s the real message of the 11 Most Endangered list.”

The Elkmont Historic District in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is deteriorating quickly, and the George Kraigher House in Brownsville, Texas, is being destroyed by weather and neglect.

Other threats are commercially driven, such as the case in Vermont and oil and gas exploration plans in Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon.

A general lack of funds and urban sprawl are other contributors.

Southern Maryland, as of 1997, had 8,000 acres of operating tobacco farmland and about 5,000 full- and part-time workers. These laborers were generating about 11.8 million pounds of tobacco and $20 million in revenue.

In 1999, the state created the Tobacco Crop Conversion Task Force “to transition Maryland farmers out of tobacco production into more profitable and life-sustaining crops, while preserving rural-agriculture in Southern Maryland,” its mission statement said.

A side effect of this movement, as well as the 2001 state payments to farmers as an incentive to stop growing tobacco, has been the demise of the wood-frame tobacco barns that dotted the rolling fields of Maryland for nearly 400 years.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said: “Many of the barns are decades if not centuries old, and they’ve become obsolete. … The barns stand naked in these fields, and they have become prey to arsonists and lumber collectors. It is up to the owners of the property to keep them up.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has suggested that the barns be adapted for other agricultural uses.

Adaptation also was recommended to save Chicago’s historic Cook County Hospital and the outdated Bethlehem Steel Plant in Pennsylvania.

Restoration was advised for the modernist design building, 2 Columbus Circle in New York City.

Working with the native people of the Gullah/Geechee Coast in South Carolina and Georgia to preserve their heritage and culture may be a more complicated task as strip malls and subdivisions invade their homeland.

Awareness is the key motivation for publishing this list, Mr. Moe said.

“From factories that defined a nation to the home of a racehorse that inspired generations, from rural archaeological sites to big-city high-rises, from individual landmarks to entire neighborhoods, historic places tell us who we are as a nation.”

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