Civil War-era house is rediscovered

DREAM HOME

No ghost: Patricia and Christopher Tait so far have uncovered three original fireplaces in their 1860 home but not the Confederate ghost.

February 21, 1999|By Ron Snyder | Ron Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many people would have considered the old house in Hanover a nightmare, but to Christopher and Patricia Tait it was a dream come true, proving that anything is possible when you fall in love with a home.

The Howard County couple knew they wanted an old home to restore, and found just that in December 1997 when they purchased their 1860 home for $166,000, according to state property records.

"As soon as I walked in I knew that I wanted it," said Patricia Tait, whose real estate agent mother found the home.

While she was immediately excited, her husband had reservations about buying a 4,000-square-foot home requiring so much work. Everything from the floors to the wiring needed upgrading. To get the house in the condition the Taits wanted would cost at least $50,000, they estimated.

"I was a little scared at first because it was a lot of work," Mr. Tait said. "But I saw the potential soon after my wife did, especially after seeing other homes around the same age and realizing it was actually in pretty good shape for a home that old."

Another interesting twist was trying to figure out whether the home was, in fact, in Howard County rather than in Anne Arundel,

"It was weird at first, because we have an Anne Arundel ZIP code and post office, but everything else -- like taxes and schools -- are in Howard," Mr. Tait said.

The history of the six-bedroom, two-bath home is everywhere -- from the four fireplaces and narrow circular staircase to the servants quarters. The staircase also has a recess along the wall known as a "coffin corner."

"Back in the 1800s when someone was ready to die, they usually did so in their bedroom upstairs. So the coffin corner was put in the wall to make it easier to get a coffin up and down the stairs," Mrs. Tait explained.

Much of the beauty of the home had been hidden over 139 years, including three of four fireplaces. It wasn't until the Taits bought the home that they were able to uncover many of its secrets.

"When we moved in, the previous owners told us that there may be a fireplace behind some of the walls," Mrs. Tait said. "So one of the first things we did was knock down [some walls] and found [a fireplace] in the master bedroom and two others."

Originally, the servants quarters were in a separate cookhouse. The quarters had a living room, kitchen and an upstairs bedroom. At one point, the two houses were connected and a kitchen was built in the addition. Eventually, the Taits would like to change that.

"Our goal is to one day have the kitchen in the servants quarters," said Mrs. Tait, who currently uses the area for her office as a graphic designer.

While the home is being restored, the Taits have begun buying furniture reminiscent of the Civil War era. Their purchases include an antique dining room set, old pictures and vases, and a replica of a chandelier of the period. They also plan to get fireplace mantels that match those of the period.

The Taits estimate that it will take almost a decade to finish their restoration, but they have no intention of bringing in professional help, relying on their own sweat and the help of friends.

"Working on the house is something I enjoy. To me, it's a labor of love," Mr. Tait said.

The two history buffs did extensive research on the home's previous owners. They tracked down the deeds, including that of Amos Earle, who built the home, and that of Henry S. Winters, who owned the house at the beginning of the century and for whom their street is named.

One other person has lived and still lives in the house today -- sort of.

The Taits have been told by previous owners that a ghost has resided in the house for more than a century.

According to the legend, a Confederate soldier died in the house before he could make it home to his family and now he is caught in limbo between heaven and earth, Mr. Tait said.

"I'm not going to say he isn't here, just in case he gets mad one day," Mr. Tait joked.

After the work on the home is finished, the Taits plan on sharing the results with others.

"This home will eventually have a Norman Rockwell feel to it," Mr. Tait said. "This will be a great home to look at and hopefully a great example for others to see what a home looked like in the 1800s."

Pub Date: 2/21/99

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