By Yvonne Johnson, APG NewsMarch 21, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - For as long as he can recall, Sean Kief has always known about the Perry Hall Mansion in Baltimore County. The APG Garrison photographer says the 250-year-old edifice, which the town of Perry Hall was named after, was the subject of countless vivid stories delivered by his grandmother, Myrl M. Smith, who was born inside the mansion and who served as Postmaster for the Fullerton postal branch in the 1950s and 60s. Adulthood did not diminish Kief's fondness for the quiet yet compelling history of the famous building. He eventually joined the Historic Perry Hall Mansion Inc. group, an organization dedicated to maintaining, managing and promoting the mansion, and with help from the group's administrative director, Jeffrey Smith, began an information-gathering project that resulted in a book contract with Arcadia Publishing, the nation's leading local history publisher.
On March 9, Kief and co-author Smith introduced "Perry Hall Mansion" an "Images of America" series book, during a presentation and book-signing for about 60 members and guests in the mansion's Great Hall. The time-worn, musty floors and walls of the mansion added to the ambiance as guests listened and watched slides depicting the building's history from the laying of its foundation in 1773 through the era of its most famous owners, Harry and Prudence Gough -- who named it Perry Hall after the Gough family's ancestral residence in Staffordshire, England.
Kief and Smith detailed the numerous changes in ownership, construction projects, renovations and even recovery from a great fire to the modern-day blossoming of a residential community that now surrounds the property.
The director of public affairs for Humanim, an agency that serves children and adults with disabilities, Smith said his mother once worked in the medical field at the former Edgewood Arsenal.
He said Kief joined the group a year after it was established and the two agreed that the Perry Hall Mansion was "a story worth telling."
"He's a professional photographer, I do a great deal of writing and we collaborated on the research," he said. "It was one of those things that just happened. The best thing about it is that it preserved this legacy and tells a story a lot of people can learn from.
"And this particular vehicle," he added indicating the mansion, "offers a visual history worth more than just words. The most significant thing is this is a story worth telling and our book is a great way to explain why we should care."
After years of storytelling followed by years of research, Kief knows the mansion's history by heart, from the third floor servants quarters, to the basement containing a former wine cellar with an in-ground well and giant wood-beamed wine racks on one side and a room that still bears marks from shackles used to detain unruly slaves on the other, to the main kitchen and its walk-in fireplace to the building's focal point -- the Great Hall.
Kief said he's been interested in the house his whole life but because it was always in private ownership, he only got to tour it after the group gained access to it from Baltimore County. He had been researching the house about five years when he and Smith decided to write the book.
"I've always loved Arcadia Books and we thought we had enough to produce a book of our own," he said.
Once the proposal was approved and the contract was signed they had six months to produce the finished product. Numerous family members who once resided in the mansion still populate the area -- at least one attended the book signing -- and many who were contacted shared their stories and filled information gaps for the authors.
Kief said it was a labor of love.
"And the beauty of it is it was no cost to us; not done for the money. We're just happy to bring attention to the mansion."
He said the group hopes to eventually provide security to the mansion grounds so important relics in the states archives relating to the mansion's history can be displayed there and to restore the Great Hall enough to host small events and meetings.
"Perry Hall Mansion" is sold locally at Barnes & Noble, Walgreens and on Amazon.com. A portion of proceeds from direct sales through Kief or Smith go to Historic Perry Hall Mansion, Inc.
For more information, visit www.perryhallmansion.org.