Anne Arundel home preserves the past

Tour: This year's House and Garden Pilgrimage features Part of Providence, a house lovingly restored by longtime admirers.

April 11, 1999|By KAROL V. MENZIE | KAROL V. MENZIE,SUN STAFF

A generous dose of admiration, a bit of awe, a pinch of envy and a dash of romance: Those are the ingredients that unfailingly draw visitors to historic house tours.

Not only do you get to see how other people feather their lovely nests, you get repeated glimpses into the past.

The house known as Part of Providence, one of more than a dozen on the Anne Arundel County section of this year's Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, is a place where the present nestles comfortably in the arms of the past. The tour begins this Saturday and runs through May 12.

Although the owners, Richard and Merritt Butts, have extensively renovated the interior spaces, they have carefully preserved the original character of the house. Merritt Butts had long had her eye on the house, and when it came up for sale in 1984, they snapped it up.

"The center part of the house dates to 1800-1810," Butts says, leading a visitor on a tour of the tree-shaded dwelling. The house was later enlarged with wings on either side, known somewhat whimsically as the Linter (for lean-to) and the Particle. "When we bought the house," Butts says, "the additions were completely closed off from the main part of the house. They had their own entrances, and their own bathrooms. We think there was a mother-in-law living at either end."

Janet Cremeans, co-chair of the House & Garden Pilgrimage for Anne Arundel County, said the house was chosen for the tour because "it is quite charming," and because of its historical significance.

"It was originally part of 6,000 acres owned by Amos Garrett, the first mayor of Annapolis," Cremeans said. There are also stories about the house being a stop on the underground railroad, she said, and there may once have been a tunnel from the basement to the Rising Sun Inn. The inn, coincidentally, is this year's preservation project, the beneficiary of Pilgrimage proceeds.

In their renovations, the Buttses converted the right wing into a master bedroom suite, moving a staircase, turning a small kitchen into a master bath and completely redoing the heating and plumbing.

In the master suite and throughout most of the house, the wooden floors are covered with Oriental carpets. However, the left wing, which has been converted into a family room, and the adjoining butler's pantry are covered in white Berber-like carpeting. The family room features soft green trim and curtains in a peach and green print that looks somewhat Oriental. This room houses the piano, which is sometimes graced by a slender gray cat.

In the main part of the house, the entry hall features the original plank pine flooring and staircase with black walnut balusters and newel post. Wallpaper with a willow-tree motif resembles stenciling. One of the hall's furnishings, a tall chest, was made by one of Butts' ancestors. "It's signed by John Tull, and dates from the early to middle 1800s," Butts says.

The entry also houses one of the treasures of the house, discovered by a previous owner while plasterwork was being redone. It's a handwritten note that says "Put one bottle whiskey and one bottle Brandy in the wall December first 1860 of my house." It's signed by Philip Wesley Whitwright. One of the bottles was broken at some point, but the other is intact, with liquid still in it. "We don't know which one it is," Butts says with a laugh.

In the living room is another echo from the past: a wooden box that was the dues box for the Union Club of Baltimore, with a note that says the club was founded around the time of the Civil War, and later disbanded.

The living room has pale yellow walls and one of five working fireplaces in the house. Others are in the dining room, master bedroom and two upstairs bedrooms. There are actually seven fireplaces in the house; the other two, unused, are in the cellar.

In a corner of the dining room is a grandfather-style clock, made by Hennengen Bates Co., Baltimore. There's a sailing ship painted in the arch above the face.

The dining room is painted a soft pinky-peach Butts calls "shrimp." Butts, an associate real estate broker, did all the decorating in the house, choosing the colors and the wallpapers. Most of the renovation was completed about eight years ago, she said, and included redoing all the bathrooms, plus the well and septic system. It helped that her husband works in construction.

The kitchen is what Butts calls "kind of funny:" It has three sections, on two levels. The main part of the kitchen has a long wooden table and six old spindle-back chairs that Butts found in Delaware. The appliances are strictly modern, with a cooktop housed in a counter in the old fireplace opening.

The Butts' son and daughter, now college-age, always used a small back staircase to get to the kitchen from their rooms upstairs.

Off the kitchen is a small storage-type room, which has its own bath. Down a few steps -- into the family room addition -- is the butler's pantry, with shallow shelves to hold glasses and dishes.

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