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Preserving History

Matt Schudel

I have to confess I had never heard of Mary Ann Kephart before I began to work on her obituary this week. Mrs. Kephart never had a paying job outside the home, was never well known beyond Poolesville, the rural community in northwestern Montgomery County, Md., and never get caught up in a scandal.

In other words, she didn't seem to be a likely subject for an interesting or in-depth obituary -- except that she cared deeply about two things that are near to my own heart: rural life and the preservation of historic buildings.

Mrs. Kephart was that rare thing -- a native of Montgomery County -- who moved away to Japan and Belgium, where her husband was in the Foreign Service. In 1956, she and her busband bought a historic house in then-remote Poolesville that had been built in the 18th century by Mrs. Kephart's ancestors. The house and surrounding farm, called Chiswell's Inheritance, became the focus of her attention and fostered an interest in preserving as much of Montgomery County's fading rural character as she could.

Mrs. Kephart became an activist for saving old buildings and ways of life, helping to establish the Historic Medley District and Montgomery Preservation Inc. She helped draw up the county's historic preservation plan and also led the effort to adopt the innovative Montgomery County Farmland Preservation Program, which allows for the conservation of farmland amid urban sprawl.

Mary Ann Kephart may not have been famous beyond the small circle of historic preservationists, but she did a great deal to improve the quality of life for all of us who live here.

By Matt Schudel |  June 14, 2009; 7:17 AM ET  | Category:  Matt Schudel , Washington DC-area people
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