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Resident takes steps to maintain home's intrinsic value
MT. JACKSON -- Not much of the scenery has changed at the Bauserman Farm in the past 100 years. The farmhouse looks over the surrounding rolling hills and meadows and sits across from an ancient barn and a granary. A picket fence surrounds the house, as well as a nearby summer kitchen and chicken coop to the back.
The home itself stands out from its simple country landscape with its golden color outlined by dark green and blue trim. If it weren't for the sounds of the occasional passing car at 10107 S. Middle Road, the tranquility of the farm could make visitors pause for a moment and feel as though they have been taken back to the days when Shenandoah County was just coming into its own as an agricultural community.
That feeling is exactly what Gerald Forsburg, president and principal designer of Shenandoah Design in Mt. Jackson, who took the lead in offering design insight while the property was preserved, wants to protect.
As of Sept. 30, the Bauserman Farm was placed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its architectural significance.
"It is beneficial to a homeowner to consult with an architect or residential designer before beginning this process," Forsburg said.
And that is what the owner, Laura Bauserman-Revitz, did when she approached Forsburg to help her through the research and documentation required when attempting to get on the list of historic places.
According to Forsburg, at least one of four criteria set forth by the Department of the Interior must be met in order to fulfill a statement of significance before a nomination is accepted. According to the registration form for the National Register of Historic Places, those criteria are:
• If a property has been involved with certain events that have influenced history.
• If a property has been occupied or associated with a significant historical figure.
• If the property holds distinctive architectural characteristics that were particularly popular in a certain year or period.
• If the property could overturn important information about history or prehistory.
The Bauserman Farm meets the third of these criteria. The farm house is characterized as an I-house, Forsburg said, and "has exceptional folk craftsmanship exhibited in its exterior details including oak leaves in the frieze of the balustraded front porch," according to the registration form.
The form also states that though an addition was put on the back of the house and a screened-in porch was built on the side in 1992, the property still maintains the characteristics of an I-house, which include a single main room with two adjoining rooms off to the sides. The Bauserman Farm is a "superbly intact example of Shenandoah County's prevailing late-nineteenth-century rural I-house," according to the registration form.
There is also some legitimate history behind the farm.
Purchased by the Bauserman family in 1877, the 76-acre layout is characterized as a century farm, meaning it has been tended to by the same family for 100 years, according to a registration form. The actual house, however, was built in 1860, according to Forsburg.
There are also three secondary buildings that all pre-date the construction of the house. It is estimated that the summer kitchen and chicken coop were built near 1823, and an outhouse that still stands was probably built in the early 1800s when the farm was part of a larger piece of property that was later divided.
Forsburg says that the Bauserman Farm's preservation over the years is a prime example of how historic properties in the Shenandoah Valley can be protected in harmony with standards set by the Department of the Interior while not infringing on a property owner's rights.
"A lot of people get freaked out and concerned because they're afraid the feds are going to be all up in their homes telling them what they can and cannot do," he said.
Preserving a property abiding by the standards set by the Department of the Interior isn't so different from the general upkeep a property owner would normally want to do to keep a home in repair, Forsburg said. It just comes down to paying attention to detail, like finding the proper mix of mortar for patching brick walls and preserving old windows.
"It's not usually anything out of the ordinary," Forsburg said. "These are things you want to do to your house, things that you would want done the right way."
The guidelines of town historic districts are connected to the standards set by the Department of the Interior in that they both offer recognition of historic properties, but do not infringe on an owner's property rights.
The issue of implementing historic districts complete with guidelines is one that has bounced from town to town in Shenandoah County for some time. According to Geary Showman, a building code official with Shenandoah County, Edinburg and New Market both have historic districts in place and Strasburg is in the process of having historic district guidelines drafted now.
Woodstock recently considered implementing a historic district after a building formerly called the Effinger House was demolished. According to the Woodstock Museum, the house was at one point owned by John Ignatius Effinger, who was a bodyguard to George Washington.
Showman says that this was an instance of information "falling through the cracks," and that generally when a property is to be demolished town officials are alerted to make sure all utilities are disconnected from the property before it is destroyed.
In the case of the Effinger House, only Woodstock's Department of Public Works was notified. The structure was demolished in October.
After considering forming an architectural review board or a more in-depth application process through the town for demolition permits, the Woodstock Town Council ordinance committee decided to just require all county demolition permits be passed along to Town Manager Larry Bradford or Assistant Town Manager Brent Manuel so that they can in turn alert concerned residents or civic organizations about the impending demolition.
Forsburg also points out that even if a home is placed on the National Register of Historic Places it is not fully protected from eventual demolition. By being placed on the list, however, these properties are easily recognizable by members of a given community who may want to preserve it, should its demolition day come.
Members of the Woodstock Museum and the Shenandoah County Historical Society said they would have stepped forward had they known the Effinger House was up for demolition. Unfortunately, since the house was not in a historic district or on the Register of Historic Places, and only the Public Works Department was alerted, the house was bulldozed.
Meanwhile, Forsburg says that, like the standards surrounding historic property preservation, any apprehension surrounding the control historic districts might impose is overblown.
"We've come a long way since the '70s, when architectural review boards dictated things like paint colors, for example," Forsburg said. "They're about protecting the historic fabric of an area, rather than dictating what individual homeowners can do with their property."