Thanks to grants from the state’s oldest and largest historic preservation organization, two Southern Maryland landmarks are able to proceed with plans that will ensure future generations are able to appreciate and enjoy them.
In mid-June, Preservation Maryland awarded an $8,000 grant from its Heritage Fund to the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland to prepare a “reuse feasibility study” for the Winstead tobacco packing plant on Old Leonardtown Road in Hughesville.
An antique dealer market currently occupies the packing plant, which was built in 1961. Last year, Preservation Maryland spotlighted the historic importance of the building by adding it to the organization’s annual “Six to Fix” list of preservation-worthy sites, noting that it is one of very few tobacco processing facilities still in existence in Maryland.
The plant was in the news earlier this year when Hughesville Properties LLC, the plant’s owner, proposed converting it into a meat processing and retail facility to be operated by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission. The project was ultimately awarded to St. Mary’s County.
Lucille Walker, executive director of the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium under the Tri-County Council, said that the goal is to revitalize not just the barn, but historic downtown Hughesville as well.
“That’s a big ask, but that’s a big starting point,” Walker said.
The consortium will oversee the preparation of the adaptive reuse study, which will identify ways that the plant could become a centerpiece of Hughesville’s economy, such as a retail space, a restaurant or brew pub, or an entertainment venue.
“If you need a barn saved, then the question becomes how do we connect it into a tourism opportunity or an economic development opportunity?” Walker said.
Kimberly Golden Brandt, director of Preservation Maryland’s Smart Growth Maryland campaign, said that it is important that the Winstead plant’s heritage be reflected in whatever use ends up being chosen.
“One of the things that we’re interested in with that site is telling the story of those buildings and telling the story of tobacco in Southern Maryland,” Brandt said. “We would ultimately like to see some interpretation on the site.”
“We don’t see this as a ‘one and done,’” Brandt said of Preservation Maryland’s involvement with the plant. “We see this ... as a first step in a process for that property. We’re interested in seeing what comes back in the market study.”
The Charles County Government has been involved to varying degrees over the years with plans and proposals for the Winstead packing plant, especially with the advent of the county’s plans for revitalizing downtown Hughesville.
County preservation planner Cathy Thompson said that the loss of the regional agricultural center bid actually helped the county and the TCC “fine-tune” their plans for the building.
“Now we know those uses will be going into another facility,” Thompson said. “So the timing is actually really great.”
Thompson explained that the TCC is also applying for a matching grant from SMHA and in the process of identifying a consultant to undertake the feasibility study, which is expected to take up to a year to complete.
Preservation Maryland also announced its award of a $5,000 Heritage Fund grant to the Moyaone Association to complete an application for designation of the Moyaone Reserve as a National Register Historic District.
Established in 1952 by Alice and Henry Ferguson and a group of their friends, the Moyaone Reserve is a small, wooded community adjacent to Piscataway Park in southwestern Prince George’s County and northwestern Charles County. It is famous for its collection of houses designed by prominent architects in the midcentury modern style.
The grant will be used to help pay for a consulting firm to complete a survey of the historic homes in the community and submit the National Register application to the National Park Service, which oversees the federal government’s historic property registry.
Moyaone resident Rita Bergman said that the decision to apply for National Register status was in large part a result of the efforts by county residents to prevent Dominion Energy Cove Point LLC from constructing a natural gas compressor station near Piscataway Park.
Last summer, Dominion backed away from its plans to build the station there after the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association launched a campaign opposing its construction, expressing concern about the potential visual impact of the compressor station’s exhaust stacks on the view across the Potomac River from the Mount Vernon mansion, called a “viewshed.”
“The predominant driver or rationale in the nomination is preservation of the viewshed,” said Bergman, who presented the idea to residents at their annual meeting in December.
“We can’t always count on Mount Vernon to come to our aid,” Bergman said. “They have been a terrific partner ... and we have a terrific relationship with them, but everybody has to pick their fights, so to speak.”
Bergman noted that projects like the Dominion compressor station are required to account for their potential impact on nearby historic districts before they can obtain federal permits.
National Register Historic Districts may also qualify for tax incentives based on the costs of preserving their historic properties.
The majority of the historic homes in the Moyaone were designed by architect Charles Wagner, who also lived there. Other homes were designed by Charles M. Goodman, who designed what is today called Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. One of the homes was designed by The Architect’s Collaborative.
Bergman, whose house was designed in the late 1980s by furniture designer Peter Danko, said that the midcentury modern homes in the Moyaone Reserve are characterized by the extensive use of windows, the harmonious integration with the landscape and an aesthetic of “bringing the outside inside.”
Thompson said that Charles County has a “fair amount” of midcentury modern architecture, particularly in the northern part of the county. Until recently their intrinsic value has been comparatively overlooked by architectural historians, but over the past half-decade or so a slew of books and studies have helped raise awareness of their importance.
“It’s something that people are more and more interested in,” Thompson said. “It’s great to shine a light on their significance and maybe more can be preserved rather than demolished and rebuilt.”
“I’m delighted that [the] project’s moving forward,” Thompson said.
For Bergman, the desire to protect the houses for posterity is also personal.
“I feel that I want to protect the community too,” Bergman said. “We’re so close to Washington and yet there’s this wonderful oasis, if you will, that is protected and should be protected from development and other commercial threats for however long the planet survives.”