The Perry Hall Mansion was once among Maryland’s grandest dames, lording over smaller farmhouses from above the Gunpowder Valley.

On Monday night, the Baltimore County Council voted 6 to 0 to sell what many historians consider the “cradle of American Methodism” for $5,000.

County staffers acknowledged that the cost of maintaining the estate had become prohibitive. The county will provide a $250,000 grant to the new owners for improvements to the white stucco-covered structure

Baltimore County bought the mansion in 2001 for $335,000, with big plans to match the price — officials floated a wedding and event venue, then changed course to a nonprofit history center until neighbors objected to the potential traffic and noise. The county then received $400,000 in state funds to repair and stabilize the aging structure, which had deteriorated under private ownership.

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But county officials determined they would need at least $1 million more to open the mansion to the public; and, even if they could, would never be able to make the mansion compliant with both the Americans with Disability Act and restrictions on the Maryland Historic Trust easement.

“Although the county has done some work to stabilize this home, it has never been utilized by the [property] department and is in need of extensive maintenance and repair before any type of use can be considered,” said Deborah Shindle, chief of the Baltimore County Property Management Division of the Office of Budget and Finance. “Additional opportunity for the county to use this property is very limited, if not unrealistic.”

The buyer is The Harford Road Building LLC, which Kingsville resident Robert Lehnhoff owns. He also runs a landscaping business and proposes to turn the mansion into a bed and breakfast. In accordance with its historic trust funding, it will have to be open to the public at least a few days a year.

“It’s always been a property that I’ve appreciated and admired,” said Lehnhoff, who grew up near the mansion, before the county council vote. “From a business side, it’s probably a dumb move.” He estimated the county’s grant wouldn’t pay for even 10% of the needed restoration costs.

Shindle’s office decided to sell the property at auction a year ago, and the council approved the decision as well as the $250,000 grant. But county leaders cancelled the auction when Lehnhoff’s company approached them directly. The contract went back in front of the council because the entity purchasing the property was different, though the terms are basically the same.

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Harford Road Building LLC has agreed to repairs that will make the mansion functional again, including fixing the failing septic system and eventually connecting the mansion to public water and sewer service. The contract is contingent on the company obtaining the proper variances and zoning to convert the mansion to a bed and breakfast.

Councilman David Marks, who has championed the mansion’s preservation for more than two decades and was a driving force behind the county’s decision to buy it, agreed that it was time for the administration to sell.

“The county needed to come in and save the structure and spare it from demolition and get it the landmark status it needed, and basically save the building,” Marks said. “But quite frankly, it’s time for the private sector to do its work.”

The Perry Hall Mansion in Baltimore County. Once a grand estate, it has seen better days. The county council agreed in June 2024 to sell the historic structure. (Rona Kobell)

Marks also sought assurances from the county that it would secure any historical artifacts of the home that are still inside, which could be displayed at one of the county sites.

Perry Hall Mansion dates back to the 1770s, when Baltimore businessman Harry Dorsey Gough bought a 1,000-acre estate called The Adventure from Corbin Lee, an ancestor of Robert E. Lee.

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Gough renamed it Perry Hall after his family home in England. He served in the Maryland House of Delegates and on the board of one of the state’s first orphanages. Gough also enslaved dozens of people and kept a jail on the property as well as chains in the basement, according to Sean Kief, whose grandmother was born in the mansion and who wrote a history of the place for Arcadia Publishing.

Kief’s family was one of 13 private owners. Today, the mansion resembles a rundown farmhouse in a subdivision of newer homes. The lane is still unpaved, its entrance marked with “No Trespassing” signs. It is hard to envision the 20-room brick beauty amid peach orchards, with a grand hall and crystal chandeliers and a spiral staircase.

Gough tapped into the extensive wine cellar for lavish parties until he became a Methodist. He gathered fellow leaders at the mansion in 1784 to plan their first conference, which was held at Lovely Lane Meeting House in Baltimore. There, a few dozen preachers organized into what is today the Methodist Church, which now boasts hundreds of churches in the state. Historians often refer to Perry Hall as the “cradle of Methodism” because of the mansion’s role in growing the religion.

The original foundation survived a fire in the 1830s; the current mansion was built on top of it. The mansion has only 4 acres now as the remaining 996 acres are what is now the Perry Hall community.

Marks was only a few years out of college when developer Howard Brown’s company took a bulldozer to the Samuel Owings House, reducing to rubble the 1767 home of the mill owner for whom Owings Mills was named. Bulldozers arrived hours before a judge was to hear preservationists’ final arguments to save the house, which the county Landmarks Commission had added to a preliminary list of properties to protect.

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But a handshake deal between then-Councilman T. Bryan McIntire and then-County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III allowed Brown to bulldoze and build his office tower. McIntire received campaign donations from Brown and Ruppersberger benefited from tickets that the developer sold to his fundraiser. Both said that did not factor into their decision, according to The Sun.

“I never wanted Perry Hall to lose its namesake,” Marks said.

Kief’s organization, The Historic Perry Hall Mansion Inc., tried to buy or lease the property from the county several years ago, but could not come to terms. Ultimately, he said, negotiations with various administrations “felt like a spinning wheel through a cycle of red tape.” Lehnhoff said he was inspired to make the purchase after seeing Kief’s book in his real estate lawyer’s office. And Kief is glad he stepped up.

“If someone wants to restore it, and is willing to put that much into it,” Kief said, “that can only be a good thing.”

Rona Kobell is a regional reporter at The Banner focused on Baltimore County.

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