Lauretum Inn has a style of its own Architecture: A landmark Victorian bed-and-breakfast in Chestertown has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

March 08, 1998|By Melissa Corley | Melissa Corley,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

CHESTERTOWN -- Lauretum looks like someone slapped together the "Addams Family" mansion and a gingerbread house.

It is just that combination of characteristics that won the Chestertown bed-and-breakfast a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

"It's got everything you'd ever hope a house from that period would have and then some," said Peter Kurtze, National Register administrator for the Maryland Historical Trust.

Perched atop a hill at the end of a winding gravel driveway, Lauretum sprawls out in all directions. A servants' wing branches off the rear of the main three-story section. A screened porch runs along one side of the house and a one-story kitchen extends from the other. A 90-foot bell tower looms behind the kitchen.

David Fogle, a University of Maryland architecture professor and director of the school's historic preservation office, said he struggles to describe Lauretum "because it is so bizarre."

"This house is just one of a kind," Fogle said. He calls Lauretum a Victorian eclectic, borrowing from all kinds of styles - the kind of house "where you'll probably never see one quite like it."

Lauretum - Latin for "laurel grove" - was built in 1881 by Harrison W. Vickers, the son of U.S. Sen. George Vickers, a Maryland Democrat. The inn was added to the National Register in September for its association with the Vickers family, its architecture and its architect, Edmund George Lind, who is renowned for the design of Baltimore's Peabody Institute.

Covered in beige stucco, Lauretum's roof is tiled in asphalt cut to look like the decorative slate design of the Victorian era. Its inner and outer walls are brick, which keeps the house cool in hot weather. The rooms are airy and brightly lighted by huge windows, but are eerily quiet because the thick walls absorb sound.

The bedrooms feature original stained-glass window panes in orange, red and green. The inn's Victorian features include a double-door entrance, elaborate moldings, pocket windows, overhanging eaves and transoms.

The main hall has a striped hardwood floor of alternating mahogany and oak boards that the current owners discovered after stripping away layer upon layer of black shellac.

"We believe in preservation, and [Lauretum] happens to be one of the jewels of the Eastern Shore ... that was almost lost," said William Sites, 64, who owns and operates the inn with his wife, Peg, 75.

They are the third set of owners to work on the house after it fell into disrepair and was sold by the Vickers family in 1985. Sites estimated the various owners have spent $300,000 to restore Lauretum since it was sold by the family.

The Vickers family originally used the house only in warm weather because there was no central heat or plumbing. Electric lights and central heat were added shortly after World War II. The house was rented out, but fell into disrepair while the family tried to convert it into apartments.

Harrison Vickers' grandson, Phil Brooks, was born at Lauretum in 1917 and lived there for 10 years. He said the apartment conversion became too big a project and the house wound up vacant for 20 years. In that time, a roof leak destroyed the ceiling of what is now the dining room and with it, part of an intricate molding pattern that used to span the entire ceiling. Vandals stole all five fireplace mantels, four of which eventually were recovered.

Lauretum's restoration began in 1985 when it was sold to George M. Thomas, who added zoned heating and repaired the roof. When he could not get zoning approval to convert the home to apartments, he sold Lauretum in 1988 to Terrance A. Corcoran and his wife, Jennifer, who ran it as a bed-and-breakfast until 1991, when they sold the inn to the Siteses.

The Siteses say they have invested as much as $150,000 in more than 30 renovations, including a new roof, outside lighting, chimney flues, carpet, painting and other repairs.

While there are modern touches - a voice-activated sitting room fireplace bursts into flame at the sound of "magic words" like "abracadabra" - Peg Sites decorated the inn in a Victorian theme. Period furniture, wallpaper, drapes and fabrics in rich hues of red, green and purple are found in the main parlor. The dining room, which was once a ballroom, and the bedrooms are decorated in lighter shades of cream and pastels.

Original features include natural pine wormwood floors, carvings over doors and windows, plaster moldings and intricate iron medallions on the ceilings.

The parlor's medallion was repainted by a local artist who researched colors before finishing the 3-foot-wide, eight-point star with tropical flowers, grapes and vines in shades of forest green, maroon and dark lavender.

The Siteses said there is still much work to be done at Lauretum, the first restoration project they have tackled. The second- and third-floor bedrooms need to be refurbished, they said, and they are trying to redo some of the gardens.

But while they still have plans for the inn, it is on the market. The couple is looking for new owners who will continue to preserve Lauretum's history.

If they do sell the inn, they expect to keep the guest books and gifts they have received from guests as souvenirs.

"People thank us for letting them stay in our home," Peg Sites said. "That always tickles me."

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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