Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

February 27, 2013

Footer Dye Works vital part of our heritage

I am a landscape architect and work for the oldest federal preservation organization, but I write this letter not in my professional capacity, but as a personal plea.

I am a lifelong resident of Cumberland and, for the past six years, I have been restoring a Victorian house within the Canal Place Heritage Area.

Since Canal Place was established in 1993 as Maryland’s very first Certified Heritage Area, I have watched the grand Italianate-style Footer’s Dye Works building anticipating its rehabilitation. Unfortunately my hope is fading.

Its salvation was hampered by a now-expired deal that transferred development rights and maintenance responsibilities from the Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority to the hotel developer.

The CPPDA has regained control of the building, and the Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission is now trying to do the right thing — get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Aesthetics could also be improved with a volunteer-led effort to plant temporary trees and shrubs on the grounds as well as to paint murals on board covered windows. These simple actions will improve its chances for redevelopment.

Buildings in far worse condition are routinely rehabilitated thanks in part to federal, state, and local tax credit programs. The Klots Silk Mill on Gay Street was in much worse condition, but was recently successfully preserved and converted into housing. Its 2010 listing on the National Register enticed a developer.

Thomas Footer came to the U.S. from England in 1869 and soon opened his dye works in Cumberland.

During its heyday as the largest dye works in the country, it employed nearly 1,000 people cleaning curtains for the White House and hundreds of thousands of naval uniforms, with a motto “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Thomas gave back much to the community, even serving on the city council. His mansion on Decatur Street is currently being used by Allegany College to conduct historic preservation training.

The Queen City has lost too many significant buildings, including the Queen City Station, Rose Hill, the Gov. Lowndes Mansion, the SS Peter and Paul Monastery, and the Liberty, Maryland, and Strand Theaters.

We cannot afford to lose Footer’s too. The historic character of Cumberland is a significant draw for tourists and their dollars. Many tourists particularly admire this building and share photos of it online after their visit.

A request for capital funds from the state to stabilize the exterior has just been formally withdrawn. If this building were located in Boston, New York, or Washington, cities with better economic conditions, developers would be drooling to rehabilitate it.

This stately brick industrial building is reminiscent of the masonry wharf buildings preserved and celebrated along their harbors. Our economy will eventually improve.

The terminus of the C&O canal lacks integrity with the vast historic turning basins now buried or destroyed. The two surviving major historic elements in the core of this “Heritage” area are the Western Maryland Station and Footer’s.

During the early 1980s, wise heads resisted pressure to tear down the now restored and beloved Western Maryland Station, which had been considered an eyesore.

Recent letters to the editor have called for the demolition of this building. Almost everyone I know, however, wants to see this building saved. Perhaps we are a quiet majority.

Please make noise if you want to see Footer’s Dye Works saved and contact our state and local elected officials. Urge our city council to approve efforts to list this gem on the National Register.

It may be our last hope to save this vestige of our once great industrial heritage in downtown Cumberland.

Chris Stevens

Cumberland

 

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