BLADENSBURG — HistoriCorps, a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving America’s historic structures, started renovating the colonial Bostwick House Sept. 9.
The house was built initially by Christopher Lowndes, a wealthy merchant, in 1746. It was one of several commercial centers in the county due to its location near the Anacostia River, and Lowndes used the house for the import and sale of dry goods, ship-building and rope making. The wealth and aesthetic taste of Maryland’s elite as well as the diversity of economic activity of the time are reflected in the house.
The Bostwick House is thought to be one of only four surviving pre-revolution structures left in Bladensburg. Throughout more than its 250 year history, the house has seen events from Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 to the introduction of the first railroad lines in the 1830s and has been owned by some of Maryland’s most prominent families.
Now HistoriCorps, in collaboration with the Town of Bladensburg and the University of Maryland (UMD) School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation with funds provided by the George A & Carmel D Aman Memorial Trust, is bringing together a group of volunteers to save the at-risk historic structure.
“There are two projects coming up and they are the final projects to do what we call to finish the exterior look of the building,” said Don ald Linebaugh, interim dean of the School of Architecture, Planning,” and Preservation. “We’ve done a whole series of projects over the last five years including rebuilding the chimneys, we put on a new roof, redoing all the original historic windows, and now we’re going to be restoring the front porch of the building and restoring what’s call the buttress.”
HistoriCorps is based in Colorado with offices all over the county and brings together volunteers for week-long sessions for renovations. For this project, they will send nine volunteers out to fix the chimney, which was damaged in an earthquake a few years ago, as well as the front porch and buttress that is keeping up one of the walls that were damaged in a storm. After those structures are fixed as well as other work on the outside of the house, then they will start working on the inside.
“Basically through HistoriCorps, there is restoration, preservation, rehabilitation and reconstruction, so it’ll be a little bit of everything with respect to those porches,” said HistoriCorps President Townsend Anderson. “We have one column that will be replaced, duplicated and replicated. They’ll get new roofs. There are some structural repairs…that will be the bulk of the work.”
The Town of Bladensburg has owned the house since 1997 with the intent of restoring the house for future use, said Pat Mcaulay on the Town of Bladensburg administration.
UMD got involved in 2004 when they started doing small restoration projects and had a student curator live in the house as a tenant. In 2008, the school signed a formal memorandum with the town for them to use it as an off-campus education site and provide student research and help with restoration.
The university teaches two classes, Vernacular Architecture and Conservation of Historic Buildings, in the house to get hands-on learning related to their studies.
The Anacostia Watershed also uses the land to grow plants used to preserve the Anacostia River. When the house is fully completed, which could take several years in total due to the amount of work needed and money that must be raised, the house may be used as a community space for events or meetings as well.
“As we get money, we prioritize our projects,” Mcaulay said. “With a piece of property like that, there will always be a project. We will be having some open houses scheduled in the near future, and we will have grad students from the University of Maryland’s preservation program to tell people about the process and the progress and how we determine what needs to be done.”
After completion of the construction and the open houses to get the word out to the public, the town isn’t sure what will happen to the house next,” Mcaulay said. Its use will be determined at a later date.
“It’s part of a longer-term process that we’ve been working on with the city,” said Linebaugh. “It’s a very important structure from an archaeological perspective and an architectural perspective and certainly from a historical perspective.”
The HistoriCorps crew arrived at the house on Sept. 7 to prepare for the volunteers who arrived on Sept. 9. Due to the project’s popularity, the work will be extended to Nov. 2 and the hope is by the end of it all of the outside work on the house will be completed.
“The main thing to convey is our excitement in getting there and being part of this,” said Anderson. “Our goal is to really in some ways it’s instilling a preservation ethic on everybody we touch. Our volunteers, if they leave with a real passion for historic preservation and approach to repair and maintenance of buildings, we’ve succeeded.”