Scott Blackketter walks through his dilapidated house without delicacy. Here, floors slope toward the center; there, the ceiling sloughs in chunks and, over there, the Sheetrock walls show cracks from basement to roof.
It's in bad shape, he says, but he figures that if the brown shingle house hasn't fallen down in more than 120 years, it's not going to now.
"It takes decades for wood to wear like this," he says, sticking his foot into a smooth ditch on a stair. "I can just imagine all those kids running up and down these stairs."
Those kids were the house's first occupants -- mostly affluent boys and girls who boarded trains and stagecoaches in the late 1800s to get to one of the state's first high schools, Anne Arundel Academy. The house at 1594 Millersville Road was a boarding house for children from faraway places like Glen Burnie.
Blackketter and his fiancee, Gretchen Bandy, 29, bought the building in November and have taken on the enormous task of renovating and repairing after almost a quarter-century of neglect. Early this week, Blackketter, an independent contractor, and others moved the house 50 yards back from its original site at the side of Millersville Road.
The closets are only a half-foot deep, reflecting a time when people had fewer clothes and hung them facing forward. Outside the Colonial-style windows are fields where children helped farm and barns where they dried tobacco.
Phil Moore Leakin, the school's first principal, opened Anne Arundel Academy in 1854 to instill in children "a love for labor, honesty and a high moral life." Its teachers taught Latin, Greek, philosophy and mathematics and required the children to attend daily Mass.
Financial troubles closed the school in 1924. Even before the Depression, many families could no longer afford to send their children away to school. Land around the school building fell into the possession of the county, which used it later as the site for Millersville Elementary School.
The boarding house did not fare well. Shortly after the school closed, it was turned into an orphanage.
Gene Deinlein, now 74, was 5 in 1929 when his parents moved in next door. His uncle had attended the academy in the late 1800s.
"There was bad activity going on over there," Deinlein said on a recent afternoon in his parents' house where he lives with his wife, Winny. "Sometimes, I remember, the children used to sleep in the trees outside of the house. Once a woman was beating a child with a shoe, and my father had to run over. He broke the window and held up an ironing board between the woman and the child.
"I used to play with the children," Deinlein said. "I was in love with Marjorie Beale. I never knew what happened to her."
In the attic of the old boarding house a heart is carved into the wood with M. Beale scratched next to it. Deinlein said he didn't carve it.
The orphanage closed in the mid-1930s, and the house was sold in 1939. In 1948, William Ward bought it and kept it in the family until his grandchildren sold the house to Blackketter and Bandy.
"A lot of people come in and say, 'Why?' " Blackketter said. "We went and looked at new houses, but we walked in and thought, 'I've been here before.' They all looked the same."
He said he feels they will be able to move in by the fall, but it will probably take almost 10 years to overhaul the house.
"It's just got a lot of character," he said, looking up at the century-old weather vane on the roof. "As long as it doesn't fall over."
Pub Date: 6/26/97