Widow reclaims family home after absence of years

DREAM HOME

Family seat: It was bought by her grandparents in 1921, then given to her parents. Now Alice Unger is back restoring the family home to its original glory.

March 25, 2001|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Alice Unger must feel as if she has come full circle.

The Taneytown home that was once her grandparents' and later her parents' is back in the family. Unger never thought she would be back in Carroll County restoring the Colonial Revival Victorian home. She and her husband had been away from Taneytown for 40 years, running a publishing business in Wisconsin and later retiring to Arkansas in 1988.

But when her husband died in 1997 and her old family home became available a year later, she decided to move back.

"I'm so happy to be back here," Unger said. "I'm glad to get this property back. I always wanted to restore this house."

The home was originally built for a local lawyer, Ed Reindollar, in 1896. Unger has the home's original blueprints as well as a block of wood inscribed with the names of the two carpenters who built the home. Her father discovered the wood while he was doing some restoration work of his own.

After Reindollar died, his estate sold the house to her grandparents for $7,000 in 1921. In 1954, her grandparents deeded the property to her father, Frank Alexander. He later deeded the property to Unger, though he continued to live in the house until his death in 1991.

For two years, the house sat vacant until she offered to finance the home to a couple in 1993 who purchased it for $235,000. However, five years later she had to foreclose on the house. With the property back in her hands, and her husband no longer alive, she decided to move back to Maryland.

"I wanted to restore the house to its original grandeur," Unger said. "And the thing I liked about it so much was that I could document the history of the house."

She began restoration work in 1998 and moved into the house a year later.

Unger has spent thousands of dollars restoring the home. For example, a 6-foot, stained-glass window, which was warped, was restored for $4,000. A smaller stained-glass window cost $2,600 to restore. Restoring one of the larger bay windows cost $10,000. And an air-conditioning system, making use of the original wood heating ducts, cost $15,000 to install. The list goes on.

"I'm just glad I'm able to do it," she said.

Like any Victorian house, this one has large rooms and high ceilings. Plenty of original ornate woodwork remains. And most of the hardware is original.

Entering the home, visitors pass through two sets of 8-foot-high doors. The glass in the transom above the doors is etched glass. Once inside, visitors walk a few feet before getting to an arched entrance, which takes them to a hallway that includes a staircase to the second floor.

On the first floor is the library with a fireplace. Unger uses this room as a family room.

The original house had a parlor and formal dining room, but Unger redesigned the rooms for her daughter's flower business, Every Bloomin' Thing, which has a separate entrance. A kitchen and bathroom are also on this level. A second staircase near the kitchen spirals up to the third floor, now being used as an apartment.

The second floor has five bedrooms and a full bathroom. Each of the bedrooms has mantels wrapped around fancy metal grates that serve as outlets for the air conditioning, which comes from a central unit via pipes laid in the old heating system's wooden ducts.

Another unusual feature are the gaslights to which carbide gas was piped from the cellar.

The property also has a large carriage house in the back, which Unger says she will restore next. There is a smokehouse between the house and the carriage house.

One of the greatest ironies is that Unger's own parents wanted to "modernize" the house when they owned it. "This was the 1950s," she said. "That was what people were doing then."

The outside needed about as much work as the inside, Unger said. She has fully restored several outside porches and is repainting the house in the style that she found in a photo of the house as it originally appeared.

But Unger said her interest in restoring the family home is more than just a personal project. "I'm hoping that it will encourage others to restore historic homes in Taneytown."

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