Rescuing history is their specialty

Dream Home

Couple use talents on their own place, a 1790 homestead


Bill and Norma Grovermann -- a two-person "search-and-rescue" team -- have made an avocation of breathing new life into historic buildings. Their latest project happens to be their home, Howard's Inheritance, a 1790 American homestead outside Annapolis.

Bill and Norma were brought together by their common interest in historic preservation.

They met in 1970 when he was coordinating the restoration of Historic Annapolis' headquarters building, the Shiplap House, and she was an assistant to the organization's director. Theirs was a partnership made in preservation heaven.

Bill estimates that since the mid-1960s he has restored 23 structures that span three centuries of American architecture. When it comes to choosing a building that will benefit from their talents, the couple have been confident in their final decisions -- as Bill puts it, he and his wife "have somewhat of an eye."

Others agree. Howard's Inheritance won the 1999 Orlando Ridout Prize given annually by the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation for significant contribution to architectural heritage.

Original materials

"The Grovermanns' house was selected because of the quality of the rehabilitation, restoration and respect for original materials," said Donna Hole, chairwoman of the board for the past three years.

Hole said the Grovermanns replaced only what was seriously deteriorated, and "by preserving those materials that are sound, we are preserving the house, the street, the neighborhood, the community."

The award is to be presented May 19 at a ceremony at Howard's Inheritance.

Before Howard's Inheritance, the Grovermanns worked on their restoration projects in their spare time. Fortunately, they had retired by the time they tackled the restoration of the two-story, gambreled roof, brick house.

"Not only was this the most extensive project we have undertaken," said Bill Grovermann, a native Washingtonian, "it was the most expensive, costing around $250,000."

Unusual circumstances

"And that doesn't include Bill's labor," added his wife, a native of Southern California. Nor does it explain the unusual circumstances surrounding its purchase.

In addition to its complexity and expense, he said, restoring Howard's Inheritance required a "complete leap of faith."

The Grovermanns agreed to buy the house in July 1995. But during the most cost-intensive period of restoration -- when they were replacing three wood-shingle roofs, refitting dozens of original windows, when interiors were being torn out and walls and floors refinished -- the Grovermanns did not legally own the house.

At the time, the property, except the plot that contained the homestead, was being developed into a condominium community, and state law prevents transferring ownership -- or settlement -- of a "condominium" until the roads are finished and all utilities are installed.

House bought for $1

The Grovermanns nevertheless agreed to purchase the house from the Elm Street Development Corp. of McLean, Va., which was anxious to find a buyer. "The representative from Elm Street said, `You can have the house for one dollar,' Norma Grovermann recalled, "and I wrote her a check."

So, for two years the Grovermanns spent thousands of dollars on the assumption that one day they would go to settlement on their "condo." It officially became theirs in June 1997, and when they moved into it August 1998, they framed the $1 check and hung it in the foyer.

Howard's Inheritance is off Bestgate Road, near the Annapolis Mall. The house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates from 1790, perhaps even earlier, while the property itself is documented to the 1650s.

Bill Grovermann's vocation was industrial management, but his avocation is preservation.

With a talent for quality renovation and a reputation for perfectionism, he was hired in 1965 to work on the 18-month restoration of the exterior of Annapolis' grandest 18th-century townhouse, the William Paca House.

His preservation resume also includes overseeing a phase of the renovation of the Shiplap House, and serving as administrator of the Paca Gardens during its metamorphosis from parking lot into the original, formal tiered gardens, kitchen garden and wilderness garden.

In 1981, he was named projects administrator for all Maryland Historical Trust Bicentennial projects in Annapolis, then became capital projects manager for the state, and finally worked for the state's Main Street revitalization program.

Addition came in 1942

Howard's Inheritance consisted of the original, two-story west wing with living room and study on the first floor, sleeping quarters on the second, and attic and cellar. A two-story addition in 1942 -- a sun room, 2 1/2 baths, kitchen, second flight of stairs and garage, plus an attic above an enclosed breezeway -- had more than doubled the size of the original house.

Although the west wing and addition retain their original identity, the rooms smoothly segue from the 18th to the 20th century.

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