Rural 1840s house re-emerges from Sykesville jungle


Discovery: The Kleins found a gem of house after getting through the overgrowth and the snakes in the basement.

January 10, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

When Dan and Judy Klein began their search for a home three years ago, age was their main requirement.

Their family of five was outgrowing a turn-of-the-century home in Laurel, but they hesitated to move away from Victorian charm.

"We wanted something at least 50 years old or we thought we would build a Victorian ourselves," Judy Klein said.

But, it was a 3-acre "luscious green" lot, not Victorian grandeur that sold them on a pre-Civil War farmhouse in Sykesville, she said.

As they drove up a steep hill, they could barely see the three-story home through the overgrown vegetation.

"At first you couldn't see the house; the shrubs were so overgrown, they reached the second floor," she said. "But, I could see through it all. The lot was so beautiful. It brought us here."

The house sits atop the highest spot in Sykesville, a town of 3,500 residents that straddles the Carroll and Howard county line.

"We sit up so high, you can see Patapsco State Park," Dan Klein said.

An abandoned railroad bridge behind the property often lures deer from the park into the woods at the back of the Kleins' yard.

The family moved into the house nearly three years ago and immediately went to work. They frequently consulted the Sykesville Historic District Commission as they tried to make the restoration as authentic as possible.

It took weeks and several trash bin loads to clear the brush and open up the front of the house. The labor uncovered a flagstone path to the front porch.

"We hauled trash out of here every day for nearly six weeks," she said.

From behind trimmed hedges and the original stone and brick walkway, a lovely garden and a graceful home with an ornate porch re-emerged.

"The former owner couldn't believe we had time to put in this gorgeous path," said Judy Klein. "I told her we didn't. It was already here, right down to the original bricks."

For the exterior, the Kleins, who are self-employed painting and wallpaper contractors, chose a putty color with dark red trim.

"There was so much green around the house, I chose dark red for the shutters and trim to make it stand out," she said.

The home has had several incarnations in its history. It probably began as a farmhouse about 1840, with an addition built at the front about 1890.

In the late 19th century, a blacksmith lived in the home and ran a shop on the property. Boulders which surrounded the forge are still at the front entrance to the property. The Kleins have donated several of their finds, including iron candlesticks, chains, bayonets and handcuffs, to the town's museum.

The original oak door still welcomes visitors. Judy Klein spent hours taking layers of paint from the door and finally decided to keep its natural color.

"I tried everything but I can't get the paint out of the grooves," she said.

Beveled glass floor-to-ceiling windows across the front and sides of the house open the first floor to natural light. The rooms are painted in a faux parchment finish that also brightens the area. Throughout the home, the wide-plank floorboards are all restored.

A spacious foyer, with pairs of glass doors to the adjoining living and dining rooms, ends with a large window overlooking the side porch. Mrs. Klein stenciled soft green vines along the porch's elaborate wood trim.

The refurbished kitchen still has touches of the past, such as black-and-white porcelain counter tops. Herbs hang on the walls; brick tile covers the floor and a back stairway rises to the second floor. The old posts from the original banister are in storage, but the couple plans to refinish and use them on the staircase.

The Kleins knew exactly what they wanted for a color scheme, but before decorating, they had to tackle structural problems such as a faulty furnace, a leaky roof and cracked wood siding.

Then, there was the dirt basement, attractive to snakes and a pesky groundhog. Clearing it of debris, pouring a concrete floor and walls, and repairing the foundation were the most immediate tasks.

Mrs. Klein gave the task the highest priority: "We would have put all our money into getting rid of the dirt and snakes."

In the cleaning, they discovered more artifacts including an antique crystal lamp with a hand-painted globe and prisms.

After two winters struggling with the furnace, the Kleins decided to buy a new one and to rebuild a double fireplace that divides the living and dining rooms.

The wall is recessed into shelves above the living room fireplace, which is shielded by a hammered copper plate. And a wood-burning stove has been inserted in the dining room fireplace.

Ten years ago, a previous owner converted the six-bedroom residence into a bed-and-breakfast. The pump room, off the kitchen, was converted to a spacious bathroom, tiled in black and white.

On the second floor, there are two other bathrooms, one the three Klein children have dubbed "the closet" because of its size.

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