Elkridge Furnace Inn shakes off cobwebs to regain its elegance


September 29, 1991|By Lynn Williams

Even ghosts prefer pretty houses to haunt.

If Mr. Ellicott had returned to his former home, the Elkridge Furnace Inn, several years ago, he would have found it suitably spooky, perhaps, but hardly suited to the fastidious tastes of a wealthy 19th century gentleman.

"A youth group had a haunted house here two years in a row, and they didn't even need to decorate!" says Dan Wecker with a laugh. "All the cobwebs, the dust, everything was here."

Today, the red brick colonial presents a far more elegant picture, thanks to Mr. Wecker and his family, the inn's new "resident curators," and to Historic Ellicott City Inc., which selected it for its eighth annual Decorators Show House.

Were the late iron merchant to glide into his home today, he would be as pleased as a ghost can be. He would find the floors polished to a high gloss, and the ceiling medallions and marble fireplaces as stately as ever. In the rooms, he would note a veritable catalog of 19th century decorating styles: neoclassical polish, high Victorian splendor, cozy country simplicity.

The actual renovation work has been done by Mr. Wecker and his brother and partner Steve, who were given a long-term lease by the state 2 1/2 years ago, in exchange for fixing up and caring for the historic property. The Weckers have put about $200,000, as well as thousands of hours of "sweat equity," into the inn, which they are planning to turn into a restaurant and bed-and-breakfast, and headquarters for their catering business.

"Last year, the Weckers did the catering for the show house," explains Janie Reynolds of the show house committee. "They had been wanting the committee to come and take a look at what they had. We were concerned that it wouldn't be ready in time. But they had come so far in their restoration process that it was completely feasible to see decorators coming in and transforming it."

The Elkridge Furnace Inn actually includes several buildings, including two connected red-brick houses and a couple of tin-roofed, plank-and-beam cabins that may once have been slave quarters. The oldest of the red-brick houses is believed to have been built in 1744 by James Maccubin, nephew of Charles Carroll, Barrister. It was a tavern, which served the workers at Elkridge Furnace, an iron foundry in the area, and the ships that docked at Elkridge Landing on the Patapsco River, then second only to Annapolis as a major Maryland port. (The river still meanders through the woods just north of the property, but it's a mere stream these days.)

When, according to the Weckers' findings, the Ellicott brothers bought both the furnace and the tavern in the early 19th century, the property became something of a self-contained community, like a medieval fiefdom.

"This building served as a kind of general store to the people who worked here," Steve Wecker explains. "There are dormitory rooms on the second floor. Not only did you work for this guy, you came in and ate in his restaurant, bought his goods, slept in his rooms, and if you had a nickel left over at the end of the year I would imagine he'd figure out a way to get that.

Around 1810, one of the Ellicotts -- the Weckers aren't sure which -- built a house for himself. It was built of a more expensive brick than the simply styled tavern building to which it was attached, with high ceilings and aristocratic detailing. It is this house that will serve as the decorators show house; the first floor of the restored tavern will serve as a lunch room and gallery, with art by members of the New Arts Alliance.

The intention was to keep the decorating in a period vein, according to assistant design chairman Margaret Williams, who acted as liaison between the Weckers and the designers. The house's age and the curators' plans for its use helped the designers decide on traditional decor, with little of the rampant originality seen in many show houses. The rooms aren't museum pieces, by all means, and include combinations of new, reproduction and antique furniture, but the results would not make Mr. Ellicott start in surprise.

The most contemporary of the rooms is the front parlor, designed by Caroline Dare of Dare Designs in Simpsonville, who uses a duo-tone color scheme, neoclassical touches and "vintage" (not-quite-antique) furniture in a sophisticated design that combines clean modern lines with period richness.

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