The Wayside Inn rests along Columbia Road as a visual reminder of 19th-century Howard County, an era before neon hotel signs blared vacancies along U.S. 1, before U.S. 29 existed as a major thoroughfare, before suburban sprawl made it look like an oasis from the contemporary.
The three-story Federal-style granite structure may be most familiar to U.S. 29 commuters as the house with candles, signifying vacancies, in the windows at night.
The Wayside Inn is among 18 houses on the Howard County section of the 54th-annual Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage next Sunday. This will be the first time the tour returns to Howard County since 1987; it is the first time the Wayside will be on the tour.
The inn,run by John and Margo Osantowski since 1989, is situated on 2 acres just outside the boundaries of Dorsey Hall. Guests can choose among four rooms that range in price from $70 to $90 a night.
The bed andbreakfast is close to Temora, another 18th-century house, that has had the tide of development reach its doorstep. As a shield against suburbia, the Wayside Inn is protected by trees hundreds of years old. Even on a sunny day, the trees block out much of the sunlight and lower the temperature in the backyard and pond area.
The interior decor combines country and eclectic styles. The first floor's music roomcontains an antique RCA Victrola with its wooden horn. The second floor boasts a grand armoire that dominates the sitting room in the foyer. Also of note on this floor is the curved canopy bed in the Ellicott Room and the decorative maple spool bed in the John Howard Room. The Pierpont Suite on the third floor contains a spectacular floor canvas.
The Osantowskis have owned the Wayside since 1980, when they were living in Silver Spring and looking to buy a house in Howard County. Margo, 54, a former bank manager for American National Savings Institution, had been attracted to the house's handsome exterior but felt the price would be too steep. "I mentioned to the Realtor that I always loved that house, and I always wanted to see inside. She said 'Well, you won't like it inside. It's quite a mess.' She took us inside, and we fell in love with it."
John, 53, and she began remodeling the old farmhouse into a bed and breakfast in 1988. "When we beganthe renovations, I saw red and black hairs in the horsehair plaster on the 18-inch-thick wall. And I was excited, and I said 'Look John, there was a red cow, a black cow or horse. There were different colors here.' John wasn't so excited, but I was," Margo said.
The Wayside Inn first appears on a map in 1860 as part of a 265-acre tract owned by Evan Hughes, but historians believe the inn was built in the first half of the 19th century. Hughes called the tract "Bethesda" -- confusing researchers, as Bethesda was the name of another famous home, an historic Ellicott City decorator showcase house two years ago, less than a mile due south of the inn. Sometime later, the house gained the name Wayside Inn, but how and why remains a mystery.
The bedand breakfast has been on county and state registers for historic buildings since the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. The Osantowskis are focusing their efforts on placing it on the National Register of HistoricPlaces. Though not listed as an inn in local tax files, the Wayside may well have been a common stop for weary travelers, historians suspect.
"The turnpike is important in that it went all the way to Georgetown from Ellicott Mills and Baltimore. So I think the house couldhave been used by travelers," Margo said.
The Osantowskis have placed two white oaks more than 200 years old on the National Arborist Association and the International Society of Arboriculture registriesas checks against potential widening of Columbia Road -- formerly Columbia Turnpike. "It took 200 years to get this tree where it is, andit's still in good condition. Let's leave it alone," Margo said.
She hopes Sunday's visitors will see the inn and its grounds in bloom: "Outside, we're hoping the azaleas will still be in bloom. Lilacs should be blooming. The Dorsey Hall and Rolling Wood garden clubs willhave mixed flower arrangements here and there. And if we don't have too much rain or wind, the dogwoods should be in bloom."
And the interior should hold some curiosity, she said. "They will be interested in seeing the inside of the house. People have known it for so longfor the candles."
The Osantowskis enjoy taking in international guests, Margo explained that it's fun "to have total strangers in the house sit down for breakfast and laugh and get to know each other. Sometimes they even exchange addresses when they leave. They become friends, and we, as a culture right now, don't do much of that.
"Justto see strangers get together and end up being friends, I think I enjoy that more than anything."