HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — The property and structure at 417 Jonathan St. in Hagerstown has a long history.
The trees used in its construction were cut down in the winter of 1739-40 and 1740-41 near Hagerstown, and were used for another building before being recycled in the 1830s to build the structure.
At one point, the plot was owned by Hagerstown founder Jonathan Hager and was passed from his son to a daughter before going into continuous African American ownership by the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2018, when a Hagerstown Police Department patrolman crashed his cruiser into the 600-square-foot home.
The crash displaced longtime owner and occupant Richard Davis, but also set off a series of events leading to a crowd that included numerous state and local dignitaries forming in front of the property Tuesday.
They were there to celebrate the cabin’s restoration and renovation, and the future of Hagerstown’s historically African American Jonathan Street community.
“Saving this one cabin won’t begin to address every challenge confronting this neighborhood, or right every wrong, or tell every overlooked story,” said Nicholas Redding, president and CEO of Preservation Maryland, which bought the structure and land from Davis in 2019.
Redding called the work done at 417 Jonathan St. “21st century historic preservation at its best,” saying the project saved a “significant piece of underrepresented history through an investment in the community for current and future residents.”
The building was “not frozen in time,” but instead a “living, breathing home” with a purpose which will hopefully stand for another 282 years, he said.
“This project is important because it’s an opportunity to use a historic place to improve a community,” Redding said. “We’re not just turning this into a museum or capturing it in amber.”
He said he hoped the project would be a catalyst for future work in the community.
Redding also spoke about the many partnerships that led to Tuesday’s ribbon cutting for the newly restored cabin, which Preservation Maryland has plans to sell for use as a residence for an individual or a small family, possibly by the end of the year.
Following the crash, the structure was condemned and Allegany Wrecking & Salvage company was contracted to tear the building down.
Then-owner Joel and son Josh Merrbaugh began the demolition but stopped after noticing the logs underneath the outer structure were particularly old and assembled in a V-cut construction.
The Merrbaughs contacted the people handling the owner’s affairs, at first offering to purchase the building.
In June, Joel Merrbaugh received certificates of recognition from both the Washington County Board of Commissioners and the Washington County Historical Advisory Committee for his decision to pause the demolition, which led to the structure’s preservation.
The cabin was eventually purchased by Preservation Maryland, which has been working with Western Maryland Community Development Corp., or WMCDC, to preserve the Jonathan Street community’s history and work on economic development for the neighborhood.
The Maryland Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration, Habitat for Humanity Washington County and numerous others have also contributed to work on the cabin, which includes an archaeological excavation led by Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist with the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration.
WMCDC Co-Chairman/CEO Reggie Turner, who initially contacted Preservation Maryland about the cabin, said he was excited for the community and about the statewide and national exposure the story has gotten from outlets such as the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post and Smithsonian Magazine.
Turner said it was amazing to see how the community came together to save the cabin _ which was initially identified as historical to city and county governments in a 2002 report _ from the Merrbaughs recognizing the aged timbers comprising the structure to Preservation Maryland taking his call, to the State Highway Administration doing archeological studies, and everyone in between.
“It’s a testament to the resilience of this community. It’s a testament to its people, and I’m excited for this vision, ” Turner said.
He also noted how the project was able to move forward during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tereance Moore, WMCDC co-chairman/CEO, said while getting the cabin project done was somewhat of a relief, it was also “the start of being accountable for something more.”
“This is our resume item,” Moore said. “This is the item to show we’re all about action. A lot of people want change and a lot of people tried to do things, and this really shows that we have the acumen to maneuver and the relationships to make things happen in the community.”
Moore said the project also brings trust to the involved partners from not only the Jonathan Street community, but also the city, county and beyond, along with opportunities to help the community as a whole by focusing on things like educating children on the area’s history, bring in more small businesses and getting more residents to be homeowners as opposed to renters.
About the photo: This April 2021 photograph show on the Preservation Maryland website shows renovation of the Jonathan Street house in Hagerstown underway.
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