In another time, it was a regular gathering place for East Coast yachters, where well-groomed guests from Annapolis and beyond gathered at the end of the day for chilled cocktails, gentle chit-chat and starlit views of the Chesapeake Bay.
Today, the Sharps Point estate - which was the home to industrial pump heiress Elizabeth "Zibby" Myers Mitchell and her yachting husband, Carleton Mitchell, in the 1950s and 1960s - is a shadow of the showplace it once was. Water-damaged ceilings, faded wall-coverings and rotting window frames contribute to its faded look.
Put up for sale recently for the first time in three decades by the family of the late Otho H. Williams, a car dealer who bought the mansion for his wife, the estate's survival, and potential return to Annapolis' social and yachting scenes, are at stake.
Neighbors hope the new owner will renovate the mansion, a Whitehall Bay landmark for more than 60 years.
Listed for $4.25 million, the 15-acre estate - with its views, deep-water boathouse, caretaker cottage and barn - could be a real bargain, for the right buyer.
In the Annapolis real estate market, where half an acre on the water can sell for $1 million, the chance to bid on such an expansive property with unob- structed views of the Chesapeake Bay doesn't come along that often.
"It's rare to see a property of this size and with this view so close to Annapolis," said Charlie Buckley, the self-described "Mr. Waterfront" of Long & Foster Realtors.
Properties of 15 acres or more cover about 5 percent of Anne Arundel County's 500 miles of waterfront. In the Annapolis ZIP code, large waterfront lots are even rarer. The last large property sale was recorded in 1997 when 20 acres on the Severn River sold for $1.5 million.
"Very seldom do parcels of that size come up for sale," said George Turner, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Annapolis. "There aren't many of that size left on the shore. In this area, one acre on the water is a good sized lot."
So far, Buckley said he's received a lot of inquiries about the Sharps Point estate, but few offers. The Williams family originally asked $5.9 million for the home but dropped the price recently in hopes of a quick sale. A deal could be struck with an Anne Arundel County bidder any day now, according to Buckley's office.
Neighbors say that Williams, who owned Otho Williams Buick Inc. in Forestville for many years, used to mow the estate lawn himself. A man who learned to be frugal during the Depression, he never drove a new car, preferring battered trucks and dealership lot cars, a family member said. He died last April at the age of 89. His wife, the former Kathleen McChesney, died in 1981.
"He would have lived in a one-room shack," said Alicia Williams, 41, of Waldorf, the former owner's daughter-in-law. "But he loved his wife."
Before the Williamses, the estate was owned by Mitchell, who was an Annapolis philanthropist. Her husband, Carleton, won the Newport-to-Bermuda Race in 1956, 1958, and 1960 with his 38-foot yawl Finisterre. He wrote articles for National Geographic magazine and popular yachting books such as Islands to Windward and Isles of the Caribbees.
Yachting hot spot
Together, the Mitchells turned the estate into a yachting community hot spot, inviting members of the New York Yacht Club and the Cruising Club of America to moor in Whitehall Bay within view of their French-style mansion. Annapolis Yacht Club regattas also used to start and finish in the waters off their sloping lawn.
Fred Hecklinger, 67, historian for the Eastport Yacht Club, worked as a crewmember on some of the yachts that visited the estate during its heyday. He recalled soirees held by the Mitchells, "a very personable couple."
Mitchell, whose family started the Myers industrial pump company in Ashland, Ohio, in 1870, didn't flaunt her wealth.
Friends say that she refused to drive her Rolls Royce around town for fear of appearing gauche and never donned a mink coat. When Mitchell decided to sell the Sharps Point house in 1970 to take up residence in a custom-made home with an indoor swimming pool on Holly Beach Farm Road, a gated community near Annapolis, she made sure to spotlight its unrivaled location.
"There are 2,738 feet of waterfront, with a view in three directions: wooded creek, a sheltered bay, and a vista to the horizon," reads a real estate brochure from 1970 provided by the Williams family. "It is ideally placed in relation to prevailing winds, especially the cooling bay breeze of summer."
The 10,000-square-foot mansion, built in 1942 by an Annapolis lawyer on the foundations of an earlier house, was designed for entertaining and refined enjoyment.