Some Frederick County residents believe the Trout Run retreat doesn’t deserve the historic designation it would need to become a proposed Scientology-affiliated drug rehabilitation center.
The proposal hinges on the County Council’s vote scheduled for Tuesday to designate the 40-acre site near Thurmont a part of the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.
The county Board of Zoning Appeals previously told the site’s owner, a property holdings group that acts as the real estate arm of the Church of Scientology, that the group would need a historic designation before modifying the property for a residential drug rehabilitation center.
The center would be operated by Narconon, a Scientology-affiliated organization that operates drug rehabilitation centers around the country.
Mark Long, who lives in Thurmont a few miles from Trout Run, said the site isn’t historic.
“It’s not contributed in any way to the economy of the county; no well-known county resident lived there, like Thomas Johnson or Francis Scott Key,” he said. “It has not contributed to the culture of Frederick County.”
According to the Frederick firm and the Historic Preservation Commission, three criteria make the site historic.
The first is that the property “exemplifies the cultural, economic, social, political or historic heritage of the County and its communities.”
According to a history of Trout Run written by former caretaker William Renner in 1987, gates were installed on the county road that runs through the property to create a private area for President Herbert Hoover to fish.
When Hoover first visited the site in 1929, only Army tents provided shelter, according to Renner.
At the April 7 County Council meeting, where council members voted to postpone their decision on the site, Councilman Jerry Donald said Hoover’s visits didn’t justify the historic designation.
“What’s historic about a place that a guy fishes?” he said.
Kate Kuranda, senior vice president at the Frederick firm R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates Inc., said Hoover’s visits are only “a footnote” to the site’s history.
A review of Trout Run’s history, prepared for the county by the firm, states the site is a “rare surviving example of an early twentieth-century private recreational camp.”
“Trout Run reflects the popularity of the Catoctin Mountains as a rural retreat that was accessible to the D.C. metropolitan area,” the review states.
After Hoover’s visits, 14 buildings were constructed on the Trout Run property. The owner has submitted plans to convert the retreat into a rehabilitation center that has space for 12 live-in patients, plus eight staff living on-site and eight staff living off-site.
The second criteria the firm and commission identified was that the property “embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or architecture.”
Many of the rustic buildings on the property were constructed in the 1940s with “native stone and wood,” the firm’s review states.
Although architect Michael Proffitt, who is working on the Trout Run project, said the stone on-site is mostly original, Chuck Farmer said a significant amount of it has been replaced through maintenance.
“The stonework has been repaired so many times, and I’ve helped with that,” Farmer said.
Farmer was one of a handful of Frederick County residents who spoke out against Narconon’s proposal for the drug rehabilitation center at the County Council’s public hearing on the issue April 7.
“It’s not historical in the sense that they’re portraying,” he said.
Farmer agrees with Donald, who said the fact the site is old doesn’t make it historic.
“If the bar is set this low for something historic, that would mean almost anything in this county is historic,” Donald said.
He is concerned that the commission sets the bar too low for historic designations.
“It’s open to an awful lot of interpretation, the criteria,” Donald said.
Former County Commissioner Kai Hagen, who now runs the environmental conservation organization Envision Frederick County, said the council should be thoughtful about the properties it adds to the historic register.
The council’s decision “should be based on a determination of its historic nature, but also should consider if the use is compatible with what makes it historic,” he said.
The last criteria the firm and the commission identified for the property was that it “represents the work of (a) master craftsman, architect or builder.”
“The quality of the design out there is really quite remarkable,” Kuranda said, though her firm’s review did not identify any particular builders or designers responsible for the property’s original construction.
Yvonne Rodgers, executive director of Narconon Eastern U.S., said the organization chose Trout Run for a drug rehabilitation center because it is “quiet, private and peaceful.”
The camp, which is off Catoctin Hollow Road, sits in a deeply wooded area alongside Little Hunting Creek.
“It’s some interesting architecture and a lovely spot, but as far as contributing historically to Frederick County, I just don’t see it,” Long said.