When planning began for the celebration of Perry Hall's 225th birthday in 2000, few imagined that the year would end with a deal to save and restore the historic Perry Hall Mansion. Preserving the mansion as a publicly-owned landmark was a dream for many historians and community activists, one that many thought would never become a reality. It happened through teamwork, perseverance, and a lot of good luck.
In the spring of 1999, the Perry Hall Improvement Association (PHIA) approached the owner of the property about listing the mansion as a protected Baltimore County landmark. He agreed, and on April 8, 1999, the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously endorsed landmark status for the mansion. That summer, PHIA President David Marks learned that the owner planned to sell the property. After a round of telephone calls, Marks discovered that he ideally wanted to sell the mansion to a person or organization interested in historical preservation.
The idea of publicly purchasing the mansion started with a meeting between Marks, Perry Hall Business Association President Don Bollhorst, and Woman's Club of Perry Hall President Chris Jackovitz. On September 18, 1999, a community breakfast was held at the Perry Inn and Pub to solicit ideas for Perry Hall's 225th birthday. After the breakfast ended, community leaders approached Senator Thomas Bromwell about public purchase. For the next year, the group worked behind the scenes to negotiate a deal.
By the spring of 2000, the core group of activists included Bollhorst, Bromwell, Marks, Jackovitz, and PHIA Vice President Dennis Eckard. They believed that Baltimore County was the ideal landowner. A nonprofit organization could never raise the money needed to buy the property in a short period of time, and the state and federal governments seemed too isolated from the community. Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, however, was initially skeptical about the project, fearing it would drain the county treasury without serving any public use. Ruppersberger laid out several conditions that had to be met for the county to buy the mansion. First, he wanted state funding to renovate the property (costs were estimated at between $1 million and $1.5 million). Second, he wanted community support. Third, he wanted a plan for using the property once it was renovated.
Community leaders sponsored two meetings in February of 2001 to solicit support for the project. Attendees voted overwhelmingly to support the public purchase of the mansion. Meanwhile, Perry Hall's state legislators introduced bills to secure state funding for the renovation of the property. Senate Bill 501 and House Bill 796 requested $600,000 in funding. Senators Bromwell and Michael Collins, and Delegates Nancy Hubers, Kathy Klausmeier, Jim Ports, and Al Redmer played a critical role in passing the legislation, which eventually provided $400,000 for the project. There were more than 100 bond bills requesting about $20 million in funding, so community leaders were ecstatic.
On April 16, 2001, the Baltimore County Council approved buying the mansion for $335,000. Councilmen Vince Gardina and Joseph Bartenfelder, who represented Perry Hall, joined a unanimous vote of the County Council. The county finally took ownership of the property on November 25, 2001. The Department of Recreation and Parks oversaw routine maintenance and started the process of renovating the property, using the state funding and additional resources provided by Baltimore County. Meanwhile, the County Executive appointed a task force to recommend uses for the property. This committee included five representatives from the surrounding neighborhood, including Chairman Al Zorn, and sent a list of recommendations to the county.
The purchase of the Perry Hall Mansion is one of the great milestones in Perry Hall history. It happened because everything fell into place at the right time. The landowner was willing to sell to Baltimore County and be patient for nearly two years while the county purchased the property. Perry Hall's elected officials worked together, in a bipartisan way, to shepherd the project through the process. Most importantly, Perry Hall had men and women who believed this was a property worth saving.