The Bohls bought the house, located where the Blackwalnut Creek winds into the Chesapeake Bay, from the Douglass family in 1986 for $70,000. The cottage had fallen into disrepair. It was in such sad shape that the roof of the first-floor porch collapsed soon after the Bohls took possession.
They put an estimated $100,000 into restoration. That doesn't include Mr. Bohl's work. He numbered each board of siding, designed a modern kitchen and supervised 1 1/2 years of renovation.
They had to raise the cottage four feet to remove it from the flood plain. It now sits on a knoll of fill dirt. They scraped paint to find the original colors, re-created the khaki-tinted sand exterior with windows trimmed in maroon and forest green. The interior has the original pine paneling. Yet, it remains a hard place to sell.
The home has been on and off the real estate market for about three years at an asking price of about $600,000. The state assessed it at $231,630 last year.
Historic value, said J. Rodney Little, the state's assistant secretary for historical and cultural programs, "is in the eye of the beholder." The state does not appraise for historic value when someone else is buying the property.
In 1991, author Alex Haley visited the cottage and contemplated the view that inspired Frederick Douglass.
"We sat out on the balcony and he said, 'Yes, this is really a piece of history here,' " Mr. Bohl said.