Hitchens Homestead to host first of many community events

By Lynn R. Parks

The Hitchens Homestead will host the first of what the Laurel Historical Society hopes is many community events Saturday, when it is open for a yard sale.

The sale will feature items that volunteers with the historical society, which acquired the small in-town former farm this summer, have salvaged from the property's several outbuildings. Society past president Ned Fowler said that most of the items are "vintage 1930s."

The grounds will open at 7 a.m. Admission will be free, and items will be tagged with their sale prices.

The 4.33-acre property is home to two structures, a small house, the smaller wing of which Fowler believes was built in the early 19th century, and a Gothic revival cottage, constructed in 1878 by Emanuel Twilley, who owned the grist mill just down the hill on Broad Creek. Except for the fact that the cottage has been covered with white aluminum siding, the structures remain pretty much as they were when they were built.

Edmund Hitchens bought the 3.75-acre parcel on which the cottage sits in 1927 and the parcel on which the smaller house sits in 1937. It was from Hitchens' great-great grandson, Christopher Walls, that the historical society purchased the property.

Fowler declined to say what the purchase price was. But he did say that, because of the sale of tax credits as well as some bequests that it received, the society was able to pay cash for it.

One of those bequests was from the estate of the late George Elliott, who grew up Laurel and served in the Navy until his retirement as captain in 1985. Elliott died in 2014.

"I think that he left us money to light a fire under us, to give us a nudge to expand our vision," Fowler said. Elliott "would be pleased to know that his contribution helped us to buy this property."

Fowler admits that the buildings on the farm are in need of work. While the cottage was last resided in in July, it has some rotten windows and some of its gingerbread has fallen off. But its original doors and shutters are still in place, as well as interior woodwork.

The society intends to restore the exterior of the cottage to its original condition. Step one in that process, Fowler said, is research. Society members want to be sure that they understand exactly what the house looked like. Preliminary indications are that it was painted chocolate brown, and had tan trim.

As for the interior, a historical society steering committee is in the process of deciding how best to use the space. Should it be kept as is, and the rooms furnished as they would have been? Or should it be opened up for gallery space?

Whatever its configuration, Fowler said that the society wants to use the house as a museum, with exhibits that describe Laurel as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "Our town has a story that is really unique," Fowler said. "We want to tell those stories, as a way to reenergize the town."

The society also hopes that the old farm becomes a community center, where art shows, festivals, public gatherings of all kinds and even private parties are held. "We want to make it so that people who are driving by on U.S. 13, or people at the beach, know that there is something to do in Laurel," Fowler said. "We want this to be a venue for all types of events."

George Denney is president of the Laurel Historical Society. Considering the farm's location, near Broad Creek and the newly established Ramble, a plan for sustainable development along the creek, "we thought that it was vital that this be held as public land," Denney said.

"This was an opportunity that we couldn't miss," he added. "We just couldn't let it go."

For your information

The Laurel Historical Society will hold a yard sale Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Hitchens Homestead at the corner of Willey and Cooper streets. The sale will open at 7 a.m. For details about the property, see the website laureldehistoricalsociety.org.

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