Sanborn maps show evolution of Birely Tannery site

bwofbirely240wInsurance company maps provide the most comprehensive  single source of information about historic buildings all over America. Insurance companies depended on the the surveyor-mapmakers to document the footprint of buildings, the uses to which they were being put, number of stories, major materials, name of owner etc in simple line drawings. Reference to ‘a Sanborn’ was a quick way for insurance estimators to check the reasonableness of claims for fire and storm damage.

Redone about every ten years the maps provide a way to trace changes and roughly date buildings. They all get called Sanborn maps because Sanborn was the last of the insurance1873map280w mapmakers, but others did similar property mapping. The 16-page pdf shows the evolution of the Birely Tannery site which is proposed for demolition by the City-selected developer of a downtown hotel and conference center. The Conference center portion of the proposed complex sits right atop the footprint of the Birely Tannery building. The maps also show changes in the old Frederick News-Post or Trolley Building and others adjacent to the Birely.

16-page pdf: sanborn-maps-on-birely-site

Tannery operations on the site go back to 1800 and constituted the Frederick’s leaving manufacturing industry throughout the 19th century, drawing on cattle hides from farms around to make leather, the staple material for shoes, horse saddles, bags, belts, furniture and many other items. The Birely building constructed in basically its present form appears in the 1897 map and half appears in the 1873 and 1892 maps. A fire in 1909 after1909fire240wburned the roof and interior but immediate post-fire photographs show that the heavy stone and brick walling was saved. Reports at the time said it was back in use within a couple of months of the fire, indicating that only the roof, internal framing and floors had to be rebuilt. There is therefore a building that goes back, in part, to about 1870.

Reports over the years repeatedly stated that the Birely was one of the leading tanneries. It was certainly one of the longest lived in the area and the Birely building is the only one remaining.1897map3c

The Birely building is part of the evolution of the tanning business from a basic oak bark tanning operation through specialty leathers and wholesaling. Several generations of Birelys ran the business, and were also active in other Frederick business and civic life. When the leather business ceased the Birely building became W&W Poultry.

It has several times been recognized as a ‘contributing’ element to the historic district. Maryland Historical Trust ruled the site eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places in the early 1980s when the route of the flood control conduits was being mapped. Master plans for the development of the Carroll Creek recognized it as a historic ‘resource’ that could be preserved and repurposed. Again in 2010 when East Street was being connected to I-70 and the historic district extended by the City  it was rated ‘Contributing’ or of historic value in a consultant survey.

Currently it is up for review again at the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) which is charged by law with ensuring that projects getting state funding don’t damage historic buildings and sites. Plus the City’s Historic Preservation (HPC) will be the first City agency to review Plamondon’s plans as part of the process of getting a City permit.

MHT is waiting on an archeological report to be submitted before beginning review of the developer’s application to dismiss the Birely Tannery as ‘non-c0ntributing.’ That would go a long way to allowing for demolition, although the City’s HPC would also have to OK any wrecking ball activity. No plans have yet been submitted to the City so HPC review cannot begin. That seems likely to occur some time in the new year. 2016.10.31

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