Ex-church is home in Dickeyville


Sanctuary: A Howard County science teacher has spent 13 years adding to the sumptuousness of his historic home: a 150-year-old former Quaker meeting house.

June 06, 1999|By Rachel Brown | Rachel Brown,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Say "church" and most people conjure images of "sanctuary," "somber" and "formal." For Jim Griffin, the word church means "home."

For the past 13 years, he has lived in a converted Dickeyville church built in 1849.

The stone building originally served as a Quaker meeting house (then called the Ashland Chapel) for local mill workers and later was used as a Methodist church. In 1960, it was converted to a house, and since then it has changed hands twice. Griffin bought the house in 1986 for $195,000 and has invested $20,000 in repairs and renovations. Perhaps the most luxurious remodeling effort is the gold leaf trim in the dining room and throughout other rooms in the house.

"It's genuine gold -- not gold paint," Griffin said, and explained the complex procedure: "First, a special type of cement is spread on the wall and then a layer of gold about one-tenth the thickness of a piece of paper is rolled on, and the design is hand-done with brushes and then it gets a glaze or lacquer."

The plaster work in the home was done by a craftsman who assisted in a White House renovation in the early 1960s, Griffin said. "Apparently, he was the only plasterer in this part of the country capable of doing this type of work."

The downstairs includes the kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms, a washroom and a small study. "I like how this house has both cozy areas and spaciousness," Griffin said of the 3,300-square-foot home.

The upper level -- with its soaring ceiling in the main room where the congregation once sat -- is divided by a wall of built-in bookshelves with an entrance and three steps that lead from an elegant living room to the master bedroom.

A black granite fireplace is where the altar used to be. Yellow-colored glass forms a frame over the living room's double doors, but it once filled the other windows as well. "It's nice here over the doors, but you can see how it would be too much for the rest of the room," Griffin said.

The doors lead onto a balcony with four huge wooden columns. From a seat on wicker furniture, one can capture a bird's-eye view of one of the main streets of Dickeyville.

"It's always pleasant to sit out here -- even in August when it's 100 degrees -- there's always a breeze," he said.

Griffin said he's scoured the East Coast from Connecticut to Georgia to find period pieces and reproductions for the house.

Oriental touches abound -- from thick rugs and framed Chinese murals to vases and a collection of blue-and-white Canton china that lines the entrance hallway.

"These date from 1790 to 1840 and were considered simple working men's dinnerware -- now these dishes are very collectible," he said.

Family heirlooms, such as lamps, photos and china pieces, and several horse scenes by artist Wilf Plowman fit well in this Maryland home.

The stone walls of the house are 3 feet thick and help keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

"They say that stone is not a good insulator, but at that thickness, it is," he said, adding that it's also a good noise buffer. "It's very peaceful living here. You can drive through the roughest traffic, but once you're here it's like being in the country -- a load is lifted off your back."

Before moving to Dickeyville, Griffin, who works as a science teacher at Mount View Middle School in Howard County, lived in a succession of new houses in Columbia. "That was fine for that time in my life, but I longed for something old and historical with character and distinctiveness."

"The fact that this was a Quaker building appealed to me because I associate the Quakers with high principles and standards."

Griffin credits the former owners for the extensive landscaping of his 1-acre lot.

"They had money and taste and planted mature, exotic plants," he said, pointing out the weeping beech tree, the bird's nest spruce and a low-hanging pear tree on the side of the brick patio. Slate walkways wind through the yard and small decorative bridges cross some of the 14 fish ponds.

Two outbuildings add charm and history -- one is the steeple that the Methodists added to the roof, which now sits to the side of the driveway; the other small building in the corner of the front yard was once used as a stop for the old Dickeyville trolley.

In 1989, the yard won the Beautiful Baltimore Garden Award, and later it was featured on the Maryland House and Garden Tour.

"There were 1,100 people who visited one Sunday," Griffin said.

While the yard work can be a chore -- last fall, he said, he raked more than 120 bags of leaves -- he's here to stay. "I recently walked through a friend's new $1 million house," he said. "It was very nice, but I wouldn't trade places."

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