Historic house is hobby for Mount Airy couple

NEIGHBORS

May 13, 1994|By KATHY SUTPHIN

A stately, two-story house between majestic oak trees on a Mount Airy hillside is home, hobby and hope fulfilled for Dan and Joann Rockwell.

The Rockwell residence, a post-Victorian that has been home to five families since it was built in 1913, is one of 10 houses featured in the Mount Airy Historic Homes Tour. The event, which commemorates the town's Centennial, will be held from ** noon to 8 p.m. May 21.

The Rockwells found the house in 1979 when they ventured from their Gaithersburg townhouse to Mount Airy in response to a newspaper advertisement. The couple, who were teachers in Montgomery County public schools, had two children at the time -- Josh, 4, and Katie, 2.

"We weren't looking to move," said Mrs. Rockwell. "[But] we always said we wanted to do an old house.

"We fell in love with it. We've worked hard ever since and we're still working," she said. "It's a once in a lifetime experience because you'd never do it again, but we are glad we did it."

At the time it was purchased, the house had a living room, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, four bedrooms, two baths, a wrap-around porch and an attic suitable to adapt for living space.

The Rockwells bought the home, which sits on a 3/4 -acre lot, for just $2,000 more than the selling price of their townhouse. "It was quite a deal," said Mrs. Rockwell.

When the Rockwells moved into the house, it was in good structural condition with a new roof but few modern touches, such as closet space and a working bath tub.

"We washed Josh and Katie in the big kitchen sink," said Mrs. Rockwell.

Rewiring and new plumbing were at the top of the Rockwells' home improvement list after the move. Their goal has been to try to keep the look as original as possible while adding conveniences. "It's been a lot of fun and expense," said Mrs. Rockwell.

Although the illness of Mrs. Rockwell's father during the first year their home resulted in many long trips to her family home in Pennsylvania, subsequent years have involved a room-at-a-time approach to restoration and modernization. Work usually begins each February and lasts until just before Thanksgiving, when everything is put away in preparation for the holidays.

One of the first areas to be renovated was the entrance foyer and stairway to the second floor. Much of the now beautiful mix of bull pine and oak had layers of paint that had to be carefully removed in preparation for stain and varnish, according to Mrs. Rockwell.

"Each spindle [of the staircase] was taken out, dipped, stained and replaced," she said.

The Rockwells said restoring the plaster walls and ceilings has been one of the biggest challenges. The couple learned how to plaster and how to remove and hang wallpaper.

The house has its original windows and exterior wood siding and trim. Improvements added by the Rockwells through the past 15 years include chair and crown moldings, a covered back porch, a modern kitchen, a shower in the first-floor powder room, a laundry room and a second upstairs bathroom. An in-ground pool was added nine years ago and the dirt cellar was dug out and upgraded to a half-basement.

Special touches, new or original, grace its cozy and inviting interior. The ornate brass door bells at the front and side doors are a part of the original hardware that are favorites of Mrs. Rockwell.

Throughout the home's forest green and ivory interior, Mrs. Rockwell has included pieces of her Santa and teddy bear collection, as well as other treasured accessories, such as her grandmother's chandelier.

"It's nothing elaborate," said Mrs. Rockwell. "It's just a big, old country home that we love."

May 21 will be the third Mount Airy house tour in which the Rockwell home has been featured. Mrs. Rockwell is co-chairing the event with Mary Ann Gehle, whose home on South Main Street is first on the tour. Homeowners on the tour have been meeting to plan an enjoyable event to raise money through ticket sales to start a Mount Airy Museum in the former Town Hall.

The resulting friendships have made being on the tours enjoyable for the Rockwells.

"One of the neat things about being on a house tour is it brings us together with people who understand all the ups and downs of living in an old home and trying to restore it," she said.

She predicted that tours of individual homes will vary according to the owners' style and some owners may dress in period costumes. Dan and Joann Rockwell, with the help of friends, will conduct groups of visitors through their home.

"I think for all of us, it has been fun to see the amount of interest that people have," she said.

*

Mount Airy Historic Homes Tour tickets are available in advance at $10 each at the Town Office, the Country House, Great American Country Furniture and Ben Gue Antiques and Gifts.

Tickets -- $11 on the day of the 10-home tour -- include shuttle bus transportation to the tour sites and admission to the Centennial Players' production, "Our Town -- Mount Airy."

The play will be presented from 2 p.m. to 2:35 p.m. May 21 at Calvary United Methodist Church, 403 S. Main St.

Other offerings include music throughout the day on the lawn of the Spiros home, featuring Luke Spiros and friends; meditation at the historic Pine Grove Chapel from noon to 8 p.m.; and other music all day, including a church choral performance from 1 p.m. until 1:30 p.m. at Saint James Episcopal Church.

Snacks will be sold on the Main Street route by Girl Scout Troop 468. Calvary United Methodist will serve lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the cost of $4 per person and dinner from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at $5.50 per person.

RF For house tour information, call (301) 829-9054 or (301) 831-5173.

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