Howard County, established 1851, county seat Ellicott City.
‘One of a kind’: Preservation Howard County President Fred Dorsey gets lifetime achievement award
Anyone arriving late to Preservation Howard County’s annual celebration would have heard Fred Dorsey praising the many community activists honored by the nonprofit over the years.
What they would have missed in the longtime president’s speech on Sept. 15 at Waverly Mansion was that he had just been surprised with a lifetime achievement award recognizing his role in preserving Howard County’s history and heritage to boisterous applause and a standing ovation.
Organizers had resorted to secrecy because they were convinced Dorsey, 82, would wriggle his way out of accepting the award otherwise, humbly deflecting credit to those he deemed more deserving.
In impromptu remarks after receiving the award, Dorsey stressed that if he weren’t “able to stand on the shoulders of the 18 years of preservationists we’ve awarded, I wouldn’t be here accepting everyone’s gratitude.”
“To the board of directors, it’s a time that’s been the joy of my life,” he said.
The framed certificate was bestowed by state Sen. Clarence Lam on behalf of the Howard County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.
In another surprise, Dorsey’s son-in-law, Jeff Bronow, chief of the research division of the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, presented him with a proclamation from County Executive Calvin Ball designating Sept. 15, 2019, as Fred Dorsey Day.
Preservation Howard County board member Barbara Kellner also gave Dorsey an award on behalf of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Preservation Howard County is known for its annual list of endangered historic sites and corresponding recommendations for their restoration and potential adaptive uses.
This year’s list of eight sites includes Mt. Ida, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, Simpsonville Mill Race, Thomas Viaduct, Troy Hill, Columbia Exhibit Center, Columbia South Entrance Bridge and Ellicott City Jail.
Dorsey told the crowd he didn’t want his recognition to overshadow that of 2019 Preservationist of the Year winners John Slater, John Byrd and Ian Kennedy, whom they’d gathered to honor.
Slater was given the Sen. James Clark Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on getting the Patapsco Valley Heritage Area designation and preserving the Thomas Viaduct in Elkridge; Byrd, who retired in June as director of the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks, was honored for stewardship of the county’s historic buildings; and Kennedy, executive director of the Downtown Columbia Art and Culture Commission, was honored for grassroots leadership resulting in the redevelopment of Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Preservation Howard County was founded in 2000 by Dorsey and Mary Catherine Cochran, the nonprofit’s president emeritus, and Preservationist of the Year awards were first handed out in 2002.
In her remarks at the afternoon event in Marriottsville, Cochran compared Dorsey’s work ethic to that of “a steady, steely-eyed cowboy . . . the kind that would hate this moment” because of its focus on him.
Dorsey, president of the preservation group since 2011, compiles the annual lists of endangered sites and reviews nominations for preservationist awards, which are “the two bookends of the organization and its biggest initiatives,” Cochran said after the event.
“Fred knows that by recognizing others, he’s elevating everyone’s work on historic preservation,” she said.
Martha Clark, owner of Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City and a board member since the nonprofit’s inception, described Preservation Howard County as “a small but mighty group.”
“Fred does 90% of the work and the rest of us help and encourage him,” she said. “He’s the Energizer Bunny and he responds to any request that comes in, whether someone wants information on a historic house, help in tracing blood lines or to report discovery of a gravestone behind their house.”
Other organizations in which Dorsey actively participates include the Howard County Genealogical Society, the Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board, Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, Historic Preservation Advocates, Harriet Tubman Community and Cultural Center Council, and the Belmont Manor Citizens Advisory Committee. He also gives historical tours, talks and multimedia presentations.
Bessie Bordenave, president of the Harriet Tubman Foundation of Howard County, wanted to give Dorsey an award last year for his efforts to transform the former all-black Harriet Tubman High School in Columbia into a cultural and educational center, but Dorsey didn’t believe he was deserving of the accolade and declined.
“Fred is a wonderful, knowledgeable and caring person,” Bordenave said. “Whenever we held hearings, we could always count on Fred to testify on our behalf. He’s not going to take you halfway down the road; he’s going to get you to your destination. He’s one of a kind.”
Beth Burgess, chief of the resource planning division of the county’s planning and zoning department, has worked closely with Dorsey since starting her job in 2012.
“Fred is this amazing worker bee who’s always reaching out and always showing up,” she said.
For instance, Dorsey compiled binders of information on preservation issues for the new county executive and the new Howard County Council that took office in 2018.
“Fred quotes in his binder that more than 221 buildings have been demolished in Howard County between 2008 and 2017, of which 129 were historic structures,” Burgess said. “He sees the practical nature of retaining historic buildings, knowing there can always be adaptive reuse, and he advocates directly with the building owners.”
Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland since 2014, said he got to know Dorsey in 2016 after the first of two catastrophic and deadly floods hit historic Main Street within two years.
“Fred is steadfast, extremely humble . . . and a man of uncommon character in an increasingly self-aggrandizing world. We could use more Fred Dorseys,” he said.
Kay Dorsey, Dorsey’s wife of 58 years, said she believes the magnitude of the appreciation shown to her husband hadn’t completely sunk in for him.
“I had been nervous about keeping this a secret,” she said. “It was fun to see everyone, and that instantaneous standing ovation for Fred with all the whooping and clapping was pretty overwhelming.”
The day after the celebration, Dorsey gave credit to the late Joetta Cramm, a local author whom he calls “the county’s unofficial historian,” for sparking his interest in historic preservation.
“We worked together for 13 years and we shared a great bond,” he said.
Dorsey listed Preservation Howard County’s current priorities: Expansion of oversight of the county’s Historic Preservation Commission; planning for Lawyers Hill, a historic property he said is suffering from “demolition by neglect”; an update of regulations and closing of loopholes for development proposals that affect any of the county’s 72 scenic roads; and restoration and adaptive use of the former Ellicott City Jail.
Preservation Howard County is also advocating for the future of three historic homes, Dorsey said.
They are: Athol, built in 1730 and situated on Martin Road; the Pue-Fulton House, built in 1865 off Old Columbia Pike in Dorsey’s Ridge and added onto in 1905; and Wildwood, built in the mid-1700s and located across from the Kings Contrivance Village Center.
“We’re interested in who the next owners will be and what will happen with these properties,” he said.
As for Dorsey continuing on as Preservation Howard County president, that appears to be a given.
“I’ve always just agreed to stay on another year,” he said.
News from the County:
SUBTITLE 13. – CEMETERY PRESERVATION
Sec. 16.1300. – Short title; background; purpose.
(a) Short Title. This subtitle shall be known as the Cemetery Preservation Act of Howard County.
(b) Background. This subtitle arose out of the attempted development of a particular cemetery in Howard County, which highlighted the need for greater protection for old cemeteries and burial grounds from development.
(c) Purpose. The purpose of this subtitle is to foster preservation of cemeteries and burial grounds in Howard County.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1301. – Definitions.
Cemetery means any land or structure used or intended to be used for the interment of human remains. The sprinkling of ashes or their burial in a biodegradable container or their placement in a columbarium shall not constitute the creation of a cemetery. The term cemetery shall include the terms graveyards and burial grounds.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1302. – Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board.
(a) Establishment. There is hereby established a Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board to carry out the purposes of this subtitle.
(b) Membership and Appointment:
(1) General provisions. General provisions applicable to this board are set forth in [section 6.336 of] subtitle 3, “Boards and Commissions,” of title 6, “County Executive and the Executive Branch,” of the Howard County Code.
(2) Number of members. The Board shall have a membership of seven persons.
(i) Five members of the Board shall be residents of Howard County.
(ii) One of the members shall be a member of the development-building industry.
(iii) One of the members shall be a representative of the religious community.
(iv) One of the members shall be a member of the funeral-cemetery business.
(v) Two of the remaining members shall be qualified by special interest, knowledge, or training in such fields as history, architecture, preservation, genealogy, and urban design, and who have knowledge of and demonstrated an interest in the preservation of old burial grounds and cemeteries.
(vi) Two members shall represent the general public.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1303. – Inventory of cemeteries.
(a) Establishment of Inventory. The Department of Planning and Zoning, in cooperation with the Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board, shall propose, and the County Council shall establish, an inventory of all known cemeteries in the County, together with a description of the geographical location of each and a record of the owners of each burial ground.
(b) Maintenance of Cemetery Inventory Map. The Department of Planning and Zoning shall maintain a current map which depicts the location of all known cemeteries in the County based on the above inventory.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1304. – Development or subdivision in a cemetery.
(a) Accommodation. When a property owner proposes to develop a property, through submission of a subdivision sketch plan, preliminary equivalent sketch plan, or a site development plan, on which is located a cemetery which is shown on the inventory map, the property owner shall:
(1) Accommodate the cemetery with the development, by placing the cemetery in a nonbuildable lot with a cemetery designation, by dedicating the cemetery to a homeowner’s association or a preservation, conservation or religious organization, by providing that the cemetery be used as a cemetery in perpetuity, and by providing public access to the cemetery. Any land placed in a nonbuildable cemetery lot designation pursuant to this section may be counted towards open space requirements. Alternatively, a property owner may leave the deed to the cemetery in the private ownership and care of a family.
(2) Conduct a title search of the parcel extending back to the original patent to ascertain whether covenants relating to the cemetery had been executed.
(3) Establish the boundaries of the cemetery as approved by the Department of Planning and Zoning whenever the cemetery boundaries are either not well defined or in dispute, using any or all of the following methods:
(i) Historical documentation;
(ii) Professional archaeology;
(iii) Ground-penetrating radar;
(iv) Oral history, claims of descendants, vital records;
(v) Proton magnetometry; and/or
(vi) Other approved nondestructive techniques.
(b) Accommodation at Preliminary or Final Plan. If a cemetery is discovered after the approval of sketch plan or preliminary equivalent sketch plan or if a sketch plan is not required to be submitted, then all the requirements of [this] section 16.1304 shall apply to the submission of a preliminary subdivision plan or a final subdivision plan for a property that contains a cemetery.
(c) Submission of Cemetery Boundary Documentation and Accommodation Plan. Once the property owner determines the boundaries of the cemetery using one or more of the foregoing methods, the property owner shall submit to the Department of Planning and Zoning the documentation of the boundaries of the cemetery, and a plan showing how the cemetery will be accommodated with the development and how public access to the cemetery will be provided, in accordance with subsection (a) above.
(d) Meeting. The Department of Planning and Zoning shall forward the information provided in subsections (a) and (c) above to the Planning Board. The Board shall consider this information at a regular Planning Board meeting.
(e) Recommendation—Decision. The Planning Board shall make a recommendation to the Department of Planning and Zoning on the property owner’s plan. The Department of Planning and Zoning shall expeditiously make a final decision on the matter. In the event that the Department of Planning and Zoning determines that an accommodation of the cemetery with the development cannot reasonably be accomplished without denying the property owner reasonable use of its entire property, then the Department of Planning and Zoning shall require the property owner to develop, and it shall approve, a plan for appropriate treatment of the cemetery in accordance with State law.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1305. – Discovery of cemetery.
(a) Discovery. If any person discovers the existence of previously unknown human remains, tombstones, funerary objects, or other evidence of a cemetery which reasonably indicates the presence of a cemetery in the course of grading, construction or work of any kind, that person shall stop work immediately in the discovered area and shall give notice of its discovery within 24 hours to the State’s attorney, the County Health Officer, the Department of Planning and Zoning, the Department of Public Works, and the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits. All permits issued by the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits relating to the discovered area shall be suspended and the property owner shall stop all work in the discovered area until a determination is made pursuant to subsection (b) of this section.
(b) Determination. The Department Planning and Zoning, in consultation with the Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board, shall determine if the discovered area provided in subsection (a) above is a cemetery. In making this determination, the Department of Planning and Zoning, in consultation with the cemetery preservation advisory board, may require the property owner to comply with subsection 16.1304(a)(2) and (3). If it is determined that the area is not a cemetery, the stop-work order shall be lifted and the suspended permits released by the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits.
(c) Cemetery protection. If it is determined that the discovered area is a cemetery, the property owner shall comply with the requirements of section 16.1304 of this subtitle. However, the Department of Planning and Zoning, in consultation with the Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board, may waive these requirements in a discovery situation, on a case-by-case basis, based on the criteria for waivers of the subdivision regulations contained in section 6.104 of the Howard County Code.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1306. – Removal prior to development.
If a property owner removes human remains from a cemetery prior to entering the development or subdivision process, then any subsequent development of the area formerly occupied by the cemetery shall be prohibited.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1307. – Appeal.
Any person specially aggrieved by any decision of a County agency made under this subtitle may, within 30 days thereof, appeal the decision to the Board of Appeals of Howard County.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1308. – Enforcement.
Where there is any violation of this subtitle or any action taken thereunder Howard County shall institute appropriate action to compel compliance with the provisions of this subtitle. In addition to and concurrent with all other remedies, Howard County may enforce the provisions of this subtitle with civil penalties pursuant to the provisions of title 24, “Civil Penalties,” of the Howard County Code. A violation shall be a Class A offense.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Sec. 16.1309. – Severability.
If any portion of this subtitle is held invalid or unconstitutional, the invalidity or unconstitutionality of that portion shall not affect the remaining portions of the subtitle.
(C.B. 13, 1993)
Howard County Cemetery Preservation Programs
The Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) and the Cemetery Preservation Advisory Board (CPAB), through the efforts of many volunteers such as the Howard County Genealogical Society, began a County‐wide cemetery survey in 2014 to document the current conditions of historic cemeteries located in Howard County. Following an assessment of conditions, in 2017 the County began to provide grant opportunities for specific cemetery projects.
Howard County offers a 25% property tax credit for restoration work that is pre‐ approved by the Historic Preservation Commission for a historic cemetery. Section 20.112 of the County Code says eligible cemetery restoration work may include repair or maintenance of existing gravestones, walls, fencing or other site features [including historic outbuildings] of an eligible property that is a historic cemetery listed on the Inventory under section 16.1303 of the County Code.
See Graveyard and Burial Sites Maintenance Information at www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=FSi5XBVppbQ%3d&portalid=0
Helpful County Resources:
Howard County – Sailor, Maryland’s Public Information Network
Howard County Website
Howard County Home Page
Howard County Circuit Court
Ellicott City, MD 21043
Howard County Government
Historic Conservation and Preservation
Preservation Howard County
Howard County Genealogical Society
c/o James Kuttler, Cemeteries
P. O. Box 274
Columbia, MD 21045
Howard County Public Library
Howard County – MD Tombstone Transcription Project
Howard County Cemeteries
Map poster of cemeteries [PDF]
Maryland Electronic Capital