The historic Dameron House, dated to 1785, was intentionally burned to the ground Saturday by its owners after years of trying to sell it for preservation.
Steven and Paula Decker purchased the 3-acre lot in 2007 in order to access 46 acres of farmland behind the house, and they had no intention of destroying it, they said at that time.
The Deckers held a demolition permit for two years for the house, said Gracie Brady, historic preservation planner with the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management. The house and lot were for sale and there were some interested buyers along the way, but the cost to rehabilitate the decrepit house was too much.
“It’s been listed with a Realtor for years. Nobody would buy it. It’s heartbreaking,” Brady said Monday.
“We had it for sale for years and nothing was happening,” Steven Decker said Monday.
The cost to make the house livable again was estimated at more than $1 million. “Not too many people in this economy have a million to invest in a house,” Brady said.
“I couldn’t keep people out of it,” Decker said. Neighbors told him frequently of trespassers entering the structure, he said, though he never saw any vandalism or signs of parties. The house became a liability issue, Decker said. “We just made the decision it was time for it to go,” he said. “It broke my heart to do it.”
Someone called 911 to report the blaze Saturday, and dispatchers sent volunteers from the Ridge Fire House to a report of a barn fire.
Bruce Raley, chief of Ridge Volunteer Fire Department, said that Decker initially had asked if the volunteer firefighters would burn the structure, but then decided to do it himself.
“We had one engine go down and check it,” Raley said, adding that the fire did not spread beyond the property.
“The back of the house had collapsed ... and the front end was going to come down any day,” Raley said.
A tenant farming family lived in the Dameron House from 1949 to 1972. In more recent years, the house was used for storage. When Brady went out to inventory the property again recently, she said the house had become “a condominium unit of buzzards. They were very aggressive to me.”
Hurricane Sandy only further damaged the building, Decker said.
Brady credited the owners for making an effort to preserve the house. “I’m not happy but this is a little bit different than what happened with Resurrection Manor,” she said.
Dating to the last half of the 1700s, Resurrection Manor in Hollywood was demolished by its owner on Nov. 29, 2002, for a new structure. “It’s always sad when that happens,” Brady said.
“The loss of the Dameron House would be a shame,” said Julia King when she was a member of the St. Mary’s Planning Commission. In November 2005, the planning commission granted approval for a new subdivision called St. Jerome’s Crossroads around the old house.
The Dameron House had similar architecture to the Susquehanna House, which was at Cedar Point before Patuxent River Naval Air Station moved in. Believing Susquehanna House was much older than it was, automobile maker Henry Ford had it disassembled and moved in 1942 to Dearborn, Mich., according to the Maryland Historical Trust.
There is nothing in the St. Mary’s County Zoning Ordinance to prevent a historic home from being torn down, Brady said. Not even a listing on the National Register of Historic Places protects a house from demolition, she said. It takes individual love and money to preserve a property, she said.
“The economy, in conjunction with Mother Nature, was the biggest obstacle the Dameron House had to make in order to survive,” she said.
Staff writer Jesse Yeatman contributed to this report.