Museum director's house has Early American feel 19th-century dwelling built by Roland Park Co.

Dream Home

February 25, 1996|By Daniel H. Barkin | Daniel H. Barkin,SUN STAFF

Cynthia A. Nauta commutes between two houses. One's a Pratt Street dwelling built in the early years of the Republic that had a part in the drama that was the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. The other house is her home, a century-old Queen Anne.

Ms. Nauta is director of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and 1812 Museum, a Baltimore landmark where Mary Young Pickersgill, a 37-year-old widow, sewed the 30-by-42-foot flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814.

By dawn's early light, Francis Scott Key saw that flag waving over the fort after a night of British bombardment; the sight inspired him to write the poem that would become America's national anthem.

Five days a week Ms. Nauta manages the Flag House, at 844 E. Pratt St., which is furnished in the Federal style and has a collection of Early American art.

Her home in Roland Park has a museum-like feel to it as well. tTC Built in the 1890s, it is an example of the 19th-century suburban home sold by the Roland Park Company, which created fashionable neighborhoods out of the sprawling estates in North Baltimore.

The three-story, yellow home, clad in cedar shingles and embraced by a wrap-around porch, has been home for Ms. Nauta since 1986. It is decorated with artifacts and paintings she has collected in her travels in North America and abroad.

A set of Indonesian wayang shadow play puppets greet visitors from their perch atop a piano in the approximately 13-by-8-foot foyer.

To the left, separated by a half wall built with Doric columns, is the living room. It is a showcase, with a Queen Anne divan, old Oriental rugs, a fireplace adorned with long, brick-like enamel tiles, and a wood mantel painted Williamsburg blue. Vases from Hong Kong, emblazoned with dragons, sit on the mantel.

Andirons and seasoned wood frame the fireplace, and a brass bucket filled with pine cones sits to one side. In front of the fireplace is a saddlebag from Afghanistan. A spider-leg, tilt-top table sits next to a wing chair. A sewing basket always beckons Ms. Nauta. A shortwave radio brings in the BBC.

From the living room, visitors can walk into the large dining room, which also has a fireplace. The table seats a dozen.

In the room are a Hepplewhite-style buffet, an Ingraham grandmother clock and a Hepplewhite side table.

It was in this dining room not long ago that Ms. Nauta helped form the War of 1812 Consortium, a national organization that seeks to promote awareness of the war and its era.

The house was designed to allow circular traffic. You can walk on the pine floors from the dining room into the modern kitchen -- dominated by a flatback hutch purchased in Canada -- then into the book-lined den and back to the foyer. It's a layout that Ms. Nauta has seen in other homes in Roland Park.

Up the pine staircase, with its white spindles, is her bedroom, which has a 19th century look to it, including the canopy bed that bears a resemblance to the one in Mary Pickersgill's restored bedroom at the Flag House.

Ms. Nauta dresses up in period costume to give presentations on the Flag House and its history at area schools. "These are all my little Mary Pickersgill things," she said, pointing to parasols and old-fashioned hats.

Down the hallway, past the old Canadian blanket box, is her home office.

In another bedroom are several birds, among them a yellow-naped Amazon named Clara whose singing and chatter can be heard throughout the house. Visitors to her home usually wind up with Clara on their shoulder.

"She's very friendly," Ms. Nauta said.

In addition to the live pets, tiny bird figurines and decoys are scattered throughout the house, occasionally finding themselves in table settings. Ms. Nauta finds birds to be "interesting characters."

"I think it's amazing the way they fly, and they have little personalities," she observes.

The third floor is where her two grown children -- daughter Lauren and son Christopher -- had their bedrooms. It is reached by a steep stairway that makes one think of a lighthouse.

The house, she says, is one of the smaller ones in Roland Park. It reflects a time in Baltimore's history when the city's population was booming, and the upper middle-class was being lured from the oldest sections of town close to the water.

Nearly a hundred years older, the Flag House is a National Historic Landmark and is maintained by the nonprofit Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Association Inc., formed in 1927. The founding members of the association persuaded the city of Baltimore to purchase the home.

Before becoming director, Ms. Nauta, a Massachusetts native, studied the operations of the Flag House as part of her master's degree program at Johns Hopkins University. Her analysis of the landmark led to her appointment.

The Flag House is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information: 837-1793.

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