A house so old it comes with ghost

DREAM HOME

Getting along: The Volmans have grown comfortable living with the ghost they call "the judge."

February 02, 2003|By Faith Hayden | Faith Hayden,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

During the past 250 years, the Colonial home known as the Chimney House in Port Tobacco, Charles County, has served a variety of functions.

It has been used as a boardinghouse, a courthouse, a tavern and several antique shops.

But during the past 29 years, the Volman family has called it home. And they say a ghost has resided there with them, too.

"The previous owners had bought the house primarily for investment purposes," said Kay Volman, "so it was nice to have a family in the home again."

Since moving in, Kay and Jerry Volman have raised five children and a black Lab named Prissy.

Kay Volman stumbled on the home through a classified ad in the local newspaper. The family purchased the Port Tobacco house for $106,000 in 1974. They have since spent $100,000 in upgrades and additions.

"At the time we were living in a very modern rambler," Volman said. "But I have always had an interest in antiques and old homes."

Seven fireplaces are spread throughout the home's 15 rooms, though the family seldom builds fires.

Several renovations

Built sometime between 1750 and 1765, the 5,164-square-foot home has seen several renovations. Before the Volmans moved in, the original porch and floorboards were replaced and a raked roof was added.

All of the original brick work remains. Locks from the 18th century still are used on the front and back doors. The nearly 2-acre property includes a swimming pool and stable.

The Volmans have filled every room of the house - including the attic and basement. Framed historic sketches of Charles County can be found throughout the home.

Antique furniture collected from friends and local shops is displayed in several rooms. Kay Volman uses an old wooden school desk in her office. Scores of books about the history of Port Tobacco fill shelves throughout the mansion.

Upon moving in, the Volmans discovered 19th-century white bull's eye molding in the attic that they quickly grew fond of and searched for a way to incorporate back into the home's decor.

Kay Volman suspects the molding was removed when the home was converted into a temporary courthouse in 1892 after a neighboring structure was destroyed by arson.

The molding was used to help decorate the family's kitchen when the Volmans chose to build a breakfast room to accommodate their growing family.

The Volmans also added a sunroom, which functions as their primary sitting and entertaining area.

Chimney rooms

Two of the home's extra-large chimneys have rooms built into them, revealing some of the home's most famous features.

The rooms were called pents and, according to Kay Volman, they had a number of practical uses. The rooms were warm and dry, which made them appealing for storing wood and gunpowder. They also were used as nurseries.

The Volmans converted both areas into powder rooms.

Given the home's history, the Volmans don't believe they are living there alone.

"We have a ghost," Kay Volman insists.

She and her son, Kevin, say they have seen the figure, dubbed "the judge" by family members, more than once. They describe hearing footsteps at night and finding mysterious scribbles made on important papers while their backs were turned.

Kevin Volman said he woke one night to discover a figure looming over his sleeping friend. He assumed it was his mother, but Kevin Volman's mind quickly was changed when the figure "went into the closet and didn't use the door."

"It makes you look over your shoulder and kind of wonder," said Anne Clark, a friend of the Volmans. "But it must be a nice ghost, because [the Volmans] aren't afraid to live there."

The Volmans said they adore the home, notwithstanding their guest, and don't plan to leave.

"We have never once been scared, and we really use every inch of this home," Kay Volman said. "Baby sitters and the house cleaners are a little uncomfortable at times, but we have always been comfortable with it."

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