If you've ventured up into your attic lately, you've probably found things you've long since forgotten putting there.
Imagine forgetting them for more than 200 years.
Now, imagine if those items included a contract signed by someone who signed the U.S. Constitution, a lithograph of George Washington and an old mortgage to Hampton Mansion. Those items and more were among documents found at the Long Island Farm last year, and that might start to give you a sense of the history of the farm, which dates to 1744.
To learn more about Long Island Farm, read the documents attached to this story.
What has local preservationists uneasy right now is that this 6.6-acre farm at 2200 Cromwell Bridge Rd. is now on the open real estate market, listed at $650,000 since October. And as public and private money has dried up, a preservation group has taken a wait-and-see approach.
"We want to see what the future of Long Island Farm might be, who the new owners might be and try to figure out how we can work with them and maybe reintroduce the history and the documents to the farm," said Jim Kelly, president of Historic Long Island Farm Inc., which formed in 2005.
The farm is located next to Cromwell Valley Park, which Baltimore County purchased in 1993. The farm is on the National Register of Historic Places, the Baltimore County Landmarks List and other protected lists.
The historic society formed with the blessing and help of current owner Lillian Jenifer, who moved there in 1961 with her late husband, Judge Walter Mitchell Jenifer, who died in 1974. Lillian Jenifer was also on the forefront of efforts to get the county to purchase Cromwell Valley and, in 2005, she spoke with Kelly about the need to preserve her home too.
Economic concerns and private difficulties led Jenifer to move out and sell on the open market. Kelly's organization had been negotiating with several potential buyers in the last few years who would buy the property from Jenifer then lease it to his organization, but they stepped back as the stock market tanked.
In 2008, Historic Long Island Farm received a letter of intent from the state to purchase the property for the county to operate (as they did for Cromwell Valley Park), but the state rescinded that offer the following year as Project OpenSpace funds dried up.
"The county should have considered purchasing the property years ago," said Councilman David Marks, who, as vice chairman of the Baltimore County Historical Trust, helped write the property's application for the National Register of Historic Places. "It would have been a logical addition to Cromwell Valley Park."
Any potential buyer or operator has more than the purchase price to consider. By Kelly's estimation, the property needs $390,000 to stabilize a stone barn, and at least another $1 million in work on the property. If the state deal had worked out, Baltimore County would have had to maintain it, something Kelly said they were less than willing to do once engineers saw what needed fixing.
"It's like any home, it needs daily maintenance, daily looking at," Kelly said. "The main job of a future owner would be to stabilize the buildings."
And even with the noblest of causes and money to fix up the property, there's no guarantee of long-term success.
"It's really hard to take a really neat farm and try to turn it into something that isn't just sexy for the moment," said Burt Kummerow, director of the Maryland Historical Society. "If you're going to take it out of the private sector and turn it into a public operation, you're going to have a lot of trouble trying to make it work."
Kummerow, who is not involved with the Long Island Farm group, said the nonprofit sector is "overmuseumed" and newcomers need to be very efficient to even survive. He compared the park's challenges to those faced by the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore, which is headed for a cutoff of Baltimore City funds and is now the subject of a grassroots fundraising effort.
Even his organization, which once recieved $300,000 to $500,000 in state funds annually, is struggling.
"It's just a different ballgame at the moment. I'm not sure we'll ever go back to where we were," Kummerow said. "It's just a real good thing to have places like that be public entities, but it's pretty obvious they have to find some way to pay for themselves at this point."