Old four-fuse Victorian still has a lot of spark


Restoration: The Pisles knew their long-sought older home would need to be brought up to date.

January 14, 2001|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Donna and Palmer Pisle wanted a new home for their retirement years, they turned to something old.

Palmer Pisle, a retired Navy submariner, had grown up in a 160-year-old house in New York. And though his wife grew up in a rowhouse in Baltimore, she carried fond memories of her grandparents' old home in a small town in Ohio.

One Saturday in November 1999, the couple drove to New Windsor, a Carroll County town where wealthy people built summer homes late in the 19th century.

"We parked at the top of Church Street and walked down the street," Donna Pisle recalled. "Then we saw this house that looked empty and the drapes were hanging upside down. I told my husband, no one lives in a house with the drapes hung upside down."

Not for sale

While the couple peered into the windows, a neighbor told them how to reach the owner. The property was not listed for sale.

The 1921 Victorian-style house built by Grant Devilbiss, a New Windsor businessman, had been vacant for nine years. "I hated to sell that house," said the home's owner, William Myers, whose parents had bought it from Devilbiss in 1939 when Myers was a boy.

Donna Pisle said they drove to Myers' house in nearby Westminster to see if he would let them look at it. Myers agreed. By the end of the day, a handshake agreement had secured the Pisles the home they had been searching for.

Myers said he accepted the couple's offer of $135,000 for the 11-room house because he thought the couple would restore the house to the way it was.

"And a lot of houses are being turned into apartments, and I didn't want that to happen," Myers said.

There was one catch. The house was filled with antiques and Myers said he needed a few months to remove them.

`Gave us a key'

"But he gave us a key on New Year's Day [in 2000]," Donna Pisle said, "and let us begin working on the house."

The couple closed on the house in April and moved there in July.

The first order of business was to strip three layers of wallpaper from the walls.

In the early 1900s, when cracks developed in the plaster, the custom was to wallpaper over it rather than repair the wall, Palmer Pisle said.

After stripping off the wallpaper, the couple filled the cracks with fiberglass reinforcement and spackling.

"I used 16 buckets of spackling compound," he said.

The couple's bedroom and family room were finished first so they could move into the house.

Next came the plumbing and electrical work. The house had only four fuses.

"But back then, they didn't have all the electrical appliances we have now," Palmer Pisle said with a laugh. "They didn't have microwave ovens, electric stoves, or washer and dryers."

With the electricity upgraded, the couple then turned to the structure. They gutted and renovated the kitchen as well as putting in a bathroom on the first floor. They also put a new roof on the back of the house.

One aspect of the Victorian house that needed no updating was the elaborate woodwork. The dining room, which has the original brass chandelier hanging from the 9-foot ceiling, has a built-in china cabinet with grooves for holding plates.

A pocket door, one in which the door slides completely into the wall, separates the dining room from the parlor.

Hand-carved columns

The parlor fireplace has two hand-carved columns on each side. The columns are smaller versions of the columns that separate the parlor from the foyer.

The front door has the original brass hardware, beveled glass and a transom window. The original hardwood floors look as if they just have been redone. The wood shutters that cover the windows are original and in first-rate condition.

"I love the beautiful woodwork," Palmer Pisle said. "It's all natural. None of it has been painted."

The second floor of the house has three bedrooms and a bathroom that needs to be refinished. The bathroom has the original claw-foot porcelain bathtub.

The two front bedrooms sport three-sided bay windows and beveled mirrors on closet doors. Another bedroom is in the back.

The couple estimate they have spent about $18,000 in renovations. The third floor, except for one bedroom, remains unfinished. They plan to refinish the third floor and may add a bathroom.

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