Going Down: Sutherland Farm demos wake preservationists


"It looked basically the same until five years ago," says preservationist Steven Meeks of this fallen English ground barn, circa 1810.
PHOTOS COURTESY ACHS

Update 4/10/09: After reading this article on Sutherland Farm, it appears the owners of the property have decided not to demo the three historic structures on the property.

"I have talked with the owners and they have decided not to take down the house or the two standing barns," says realtor Jim Faulconer, the listing agent for the 450-plus acre property, which currently on the market for $6.4 million. " I will continue to market the property for sale, and hopefully the new owners will be able to preserve and make use of the existing structures."

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Unlike Charlottesville, which regulates everything from siding choices to paint colors, county historic preservation laws have about as much backbone as a nervous, drunken sheriff in a wild west town. In 2000, a historic preservation plan was adopted, but it has yet to be implemented.

Still, Margaret Maliszewski, the county's historic preservation committee director, says they do their best to track and document historic properties. So when a demolition permit was filed for two barns and the main house at Sutherland Farm (down 29 South near the North Garden fairgrounds), one of a handful of historically significant properties the committee has been watching, the alarm was sounded in the preservation community. Apropos, we'd say, considering we're in the middle of Preservation Week 2009.

"We have wanted to save the buildings on Sutherland Farm, particularly a barn that has since collapsed," says Maliszewski, "but the whole property is important."

Indeed, according to UVA architectural history professor K. Edward Lay, the main farm house, called Solitude, was built around 1810, and it is alleged that Thomas Jefferson brought his slaves to a doctor there for inoculations.

Lay says he documented the house not long ago, which sits on 457 acres, and believes thr many features that display the era's construction techniques make it worth preserving. (Though Lay notes that the exterior porch, dormer, and asbestos siding came later and can be removed.)

The house has two double-ramped chimneys that exhibit the brickwork of the day, as well as a separate smokehouse and kitchen. It's original owner, Henry Gantt of Maryland, won $40,000 in the Maryland  lottery in 1821 and returned home, says Lay, leaving the property to his son Dr. John W. Gantt, presumably the doctor who treated Jefferson's slaves. In 1837, the son sold the property to Joseph L. Sutherland, and it remained in the Sutherland family until it was sold four years ago.

After years of the neglect, Solitude, the circa-1810 main farm house at Sutherland Farm needs considerable work. But UVA architectural history prof K. Edward Lay believes it's a treasure. Indeed, it's alleged that Thomas Jefferson brought his slaves to a doctor who lived in the house.
PHOTO COURTESY K. EDWARD LAY

"It's in sound condition and could be fairly easily restored back to its earlier appearance," says Lay, "which I would think would be an added value to the property."

In addition, he says the two log barns remaining on the property are in excellent condition and have some of the very longest logs in the county, about 25 feet.

"The wonderful 1810 brick English ground barn there, which was used to store grain, was badly damaged by a tornado in recent years and has now collapsed," he says.

According to Maliszewski, the farm manager says that the current owner, Boaz Mountain LLC, which bought the place for $6.4 million in 2005, believe the deteriorating structures are making it more difficult to sell the property, which is currently on the market for $6.495 million.

Shortly after purchasing the property, the new owner placed most of its 457 acres under an open space easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, perhaps to keep it from being developed like Bundoran Farm in North Garden. However, the property also has 16 development rights, including 6 on 18 acres of land that cover both sides of Route 29 South.

When asked why the seemingly conservationist-minded owners wanted to demo the historic structures, farm manager Thomas Bradley said, "I can't comment on that, and the owners probably wouldn't either."

So who are the owners? Bradley refused to say. But according to county deed records, Boaz Mountain LLC is a company registered in Texas, with Mark A. Lee listed as manager. Messages were left with the property's listing agent, Jim Faulconer, but he did not respond by press time.

Lay says two barns remain intact– with, at about 25 feet, some of the longest logs in the county.
PHOTO COURTESY K. EDWARD LAY

Maliszewski says the owner, via Bradley, is allowing her team to photograph and document the structures before taking them down. She says the Virginia Department of Historic Preservation has also surveyed the property, though it hasn't been designated historic.

Some preservationists aren't taking the news of the demo lightly.

"I'm appalled at this turn of events for this property," says Steven Meeks, president of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historic Society. "We have already lost probably the most historic barn on this property."

Meeks says the collapsed brick barn was the only such structure in the county, and will be featured in the ACHS exhibit on lost Albemarle buildings, which opens today.

"Due to neglect, it imploded over a year ago," says Meeks, unwilling to lay the blame solely on tornado damage.

"This should be headline news," he adds.

And so it is.

20 comments

Inman, unfortunately this wasn’t just ââ?¬Å?any old” barn. In this particular instance, the owners are wealthy and knew they were buying a historically and architecturally significant farm. It was one of th farm’s selling points.

Obviously, not everyone can afford to maintain or renovate a significant older structure (and again, I’m not talking about just any old structure). But some owners can and do make a good-faith effort to find someone to come remove it, or perhaps even recycle the materials.

There’s an eager and helpful preservation community out there. If an owner can’t afford the upkeep on a structure, all he or she has to do is say the word and someone might be able to find grant money, or a purchaser, or donated labor. There are options to demolition.

I understand that private property, land rights, and me me mine mine is the American way. But thankfully not everyone has that attitude. Because there are people who see the bigger picture and give a damn, we have museums to visit and historic homes to view. Unfortunately though, many structures fall every year due to ignorance and the greed of developers. Finally, as an appreciator of architecture and historyââ?¬â?? if you benefit from historic districts and preservation, why are you against these things?

The real way to preserve history to educate the most people would be to consolidate replicas of structures like this in a central location. Set aside 500 acres near a main highway and let it be a tourist attraction. pay for it with proffers from people who own these run down shacks and want rid of them. This would bring more tourism money to town to use to preserve the real gems that cannot be replicated with wood from lowes or the latest thunderstorm.

Here we go again! This is Preservation Week in Charlottesville, isn't it? What a timely article.

Would anyone care to comment on why Albemarle County, which contains so many extraordinary historical gems, continues to sit on its hands year after year after year? Why, nine years after adoption, has the county's preservation plan STILL not been implemented? Why are there no tools in effect to save these structures?

Why doesn't the county care? The way they've turned their backs on history is disgusting, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Jefferson took his slaves to the doctor, unless they needed the love doctor.

TOO LATE is so right!
The county is clueless and also gutless.
Very old structures are allowed by right to be destroyed. I can think of two fairly recent instances. The very old home in Milton, the old Westervelt home was taken down as well as
another in Stony Point. The county doesn't care. They would rather allow developers the chance to remove the old homes and build huge new ones. Shame Shame and so very stupid. The funny thing, once those ugly McMansions are built, no one with class wants to buy them and the owners often go bankrupt.

Personally, a barn is a barn. If it is in bad shape tear it down and put up a new one. If someone wants to save the old one then they can either move it or fix it up for the owner. Same with the older homes. Reuse the materials that are good and move on.

I can picture people in roughly 100 years trying to save the "mcmansions" from the greedy developers or the uncaring property owners. People should worry about things they actually own instead of trying to tell others how to spend their money.

crasshopper, I think we're talking about centries old Jeffersonian era buildings here. They are disapearing fast in the county and because of greed, stupidity, and nonexistant appropriate zoning regs. Sorry, I think many of these ugly mcmansions will fall to blight. The other issue, once the old buildings are torn down, the developer turns a rural area into a subdivision. Yuk

crasshopper, you just don't "get it". My lord, these buildings have lasted without much maintenance for hundreds of years, and they also have historical and architectural significance. Ed.Lay knows what he is talking about! Sorry, but you won't likely see the many many replacement type mcmansions make the historical protection list, especially in Jefferson Country.
The sad fact, many of these new style California type ranchers, just don't fit in with the Southern tradition or with the lay of the land.

Crasshopper, if history, scholarship, architecture, beauty, and craftsmanship don't have any value to you, then there's no use explaining it further. You're aesthetically challenged, bless your little heart.

It's fine if you choose to go through life thinking that crap is king, and that the lowest common denominator should be the norm. Hooray for you. History doesn't "speak" to everyone-- and you're apparently among that sad number. But if it's okay with you, some of us actually do care, m'kay?

There was a time when Monticello had fallen into such a state of disrepair, it could have easily become a victim of demolition by neglect. Unique architecture- from barns to palaces- has a place in our collective history. It may not have face value to all, but in many ways, all benefit from its presence in our lives.

So, this article is implying that if i buy a property with an old structure on it, i am somehow obligated to maintain it or fix it if needed. I'm very much in favor of efforts to preserve historic structures, enjoy history, architecture and the like, but that's not what private property is about in this country. One may have obligations to neighbors/community in terms of noise, cleanliness, etc, but just because it may have an old structure on it does not obligate me to the community to preserve it...as unfortunate as that may be...

Inman, I think most folks with class agree with the plug! You and the county should assume more responsibility for preservation of historic properties.
Albemarle is looking 3rd rate in too many ways. Obviously we need more local regulation as such historical properties are going to ruin as a result of uncaring owners.

plop, in principle you are right. i hope people do take more responsibility. however, a county that forces someone to fix a run down barn on a property that they buy is no county i'd want to live in.

I beg to differ. If private groups or government bodies want to preserve these structures then those groups or government should buy them and maintain them. Another suggestion is the land owner bill the above mentioned to keep them maintained. It is becoming to easy to tell others how to spend their money.

Hook-- why has my comment been awaiting moderation since 9:42 last night?

I think an important part of the story is who actually owns the property. If that is ever uncovered, a few eyebrows might be raised.

Sville Eye, OHHHHH, I also thought this was an issue. WILL BE interesting to follow.

So it looks like an old barn caved in, and somebody wants to remove it, and sell the farm after protecting it from development forever with a conservation easement.

How does this qualify as news?

Crasshopper, you need some schoolin', son. It's not just barns, but also houses. However, this particular barn was a marvel. They just don't build stuff like that anymore. Demolition by neglect is a bad thing. It's not like these particular owners were too poor to renovate. They've just thumbed their noses at our collective history.

Okay, so according to the above posts, the county is gutless, witless, greedy, shameless, etc. I want to read an investigative piece that explains WHY. I also want to know what can be done about this. The county knows people are pissed about their failure to implement their own preservation program. So WHY do they still continue to ignore this? Hope Mr McNair can do an in-depth expos© on this issue.

I just may need some schoolin' but I stick to the post. The reason they do not build them like that anymore is because there are cheaper methods for longer lasting/easy maintenance structures.
I am not doubting the barn was a grand structure put up by an outstanding carpenter but my point is if it does not serve a purpose to the owner then the owner should be able to replace it.

As our culture progresses, architecture changes, and tastes change you can bet that today's buildings will be the focal point of future groups. I am willing to bet quite a few people thought that barn was an eyesore because it didn't look exactly like the one their grandpappy had.

Sorry to ramble. :)

Wow, it appears to have been 3 years since the last Blind Data Challenge. Perhaps there should be some "Where are they now?" follow-up stories.