It wasn't really part of the plan in 1946 to move so far north from West Baltimore and into the isolated environs of western Harford County in the historic My Lady's Manor district. That is what happened, however, when Robert Shaull, a chemist for the Baltimore City Health Department and later the Maryland State Health Department, and his wife, Clara Jane saw an advertisement in the Sun paper for 55 acres for $5,500. They had purchased a one-acre lot before the war and sold it to buy the farm located in the Little Gunpowder River watershed. There, at the crossroads of Houcks Mill Road and Houcks Road, they raised their daughter Julianna and three sons Timothy, Jonathan, and Christopher.
Little Gunpowder River Landowner Donates Conservation Easement
When they bought the property, 45 acres were in beans and severe erosion was carrying runoff into Thornton Branch, a tributary of Little Gunpowder which runs along the southern boundary of the property. Restoration began by reducing the field sizes and allowing trees to grow, providing natural buffers. Over the years the farm was leased to nearby farmers for corn and hay crop cultivation. Today about 20 acres are still in hay fields; the rest is a well-managed forest.
In 1979, Mr. and Mrs. Shaull subdivided 10 acres of the land into three parcels for their three sons and they all live there today. Their daughter Joy lives in Madison Wisconsin. Mr. Shaull passed away in1988 and shortly thereafter, Clara Jane Shaull began her pursuit of a means to preserve her property as one parcel to ensure its future as a farm. "The first attorney she spoke to said it was impossible-one could not control the use of land from the grave," said Christopher Shaull, youngest of the sons, "So she found another attorney."
In 1991, Clara Shaull donated an easement to the Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) on 26 acres of the farm. MET is a state land trust governed by a citizen Board of Trustees. In October, through an amended and restated conservation easement, Mrs. Shaull donated an easement on the remaining 16 acres of her property bringing the total to 42 acres co-held by the Harford Land Trust and MET. In additional to the 10 acres for her sons, three acres of the original tract are reserved with Mrs. Shaull's home site. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that prohibits the development of the property and protects its natural features. The landowner continues to own and use your land, sell it or pass it on to heirs, but not develop it. The board of directors of HLT is very excited that the Shaull farm is now fully preserved and its future has been determined.
The conservation values on this beautiful property are significant. The scenic public viewshed along Houcks Road and Houcks Mill Road has been forever preserved; it is adjacent to other protected lands including the 237-acre Hanlon easement; and it will provide long-term water quality protection and conservation of critical wildlife habitat. Adding the additional 16 acres and designating the location of the reserved residence minimizes forest fragmentation. Thornton Branch is protected-the new easement extends the stream buffer from 50 to 100 feet.
Walking the property with Chris adds a whole new dimension to the splendor of the place. Touches of the family's lives and loving care are evident throughout. Chris' carefully placed benches by the stream and high on a hill, John's vine-covered arbors along the carefully mowed pathways, "Dad's rock pile" - all add charm and make this a special place. When a family of modest means donates an easement rather than choosing an option with financial return, we witness the purest form of conservation. It was my good fortune to experience this family through the obvious love of their land and everyone's gain in another farm preserved in perpetuity.
As we've reported earlier, 2008 was a very important year in Maryland and throughout the nation for donated conservation easements. With the passage by Congress of improved tax incentives in August 2006, and the extension of these tax benefits through 2009, protection of farms and ranches has soared. In addition to the state income credit, the gift of an easement is a charitable donation that may be deducted from Federal income taxes (and State income taxes as an alternative to the new state income tax credit). The value of the donation is determined by an appraisal. For donations made in 2008 and 2009 the maximum Federal deduction permitted will be 50% of adjusted gross income for up to 16 years or 100% for qualified farmers. If you are a farmer interested in discussing conservation options, contact Peg Niland at the land trust office or the Maryland Environmental Trust at www.dnr.state.md.us/met. See TAX BENEFITS of DONATING A CONSERVATION EASEMENT for more information.