The storefront at 101 N. Washington St. in Havre de Grace was a little worse for the wear when Stephanie Gamble found it. Decades of use as a drugstore, followed by a brief stint as an antique shop, had left the building in need of repair. The shop's history, dating to the 1810s, was buried under years of upgrades, alterations and modernization. It was, she thought, perfect.
Now, almost a year since Gamble first saw it in October, the building has changed yet again. This time, though, the changes are more the result of subtraction than addition: Gamble, a Havre de Grace resident who's opening a furniture store there next month, restored the structure to what it was like about 1890, peeling away the layers that had hidden the building's historic qualities.
"The building hadn't really been touched since 1948," said Gamble, who had been looking for a site for her store, the House Downtown. "I could see past it."
Gamble, 31, has worked since May to bring out the qualities that drew her to the building, such as the tin ceiling, which she said was a popular style in the 1880s and 1890s.
Other qualities were hidden more deeply. Gamble took out carpeting; three layers of tile; and a coat of thick black tar paper, which took four weeks to chisel off, before finding the wooden floor from 1890. "This one took a lot to get to," Gamble said.
Other changes remain on the drawing board. She and her husband found several windows but decided to hold off on restoring them for a few months because of the expense. Other plans include bringing back the second-story porch, which would need significant repairs. Work depends in part on the success of the store, which will feature new and antique furniture and accessories.
"Stephanie went in there and changed everything," said Lyttleton Green, owner of the building, which has been in the Green family since 1814. "It's really work that should have been done years ago, but the place had been so busy for so many years that no one did any maintenance."
Green's family ran a drugstore there, with a soda fountain and lunch counter, until 1948, when the pharmacy was sold, though the name remained the same. The building continued as a drugstore for many years, briefly becoming an antiques store before Gamble moved in.
"It's a sign of the times; things change," Green said.
Gamble isn't alone in putting an older building to modern use, said Fred Holycross, director of preservation services for Preservation Maryland.
"This kind of historic rehabilitation is occurring throughout the state," Holycross said. Refurbishing an older building can make financial sense, he said, and can help preserve a town's character. "Maryland is one of the oldest states in the country and therefore has a wonderful collection of historic buildings of all kinds. They're all candidates for this kind of renovation."
Holycross also noted the difficulties in such projects. "When you start altering [buildings] for new uses, it becomes more complicated," he said. Although the use of some modern conveniences, such as bathrooms and other plumbing, can be acceptable, there are practices that are frowned upon by preservationists, particularly changes to a building's exterior, he said.
And preservation can sometimes be more costly than construction, he said.
Gamble's restoration could give her business a boost, said Wini Roche, the tourism and marketing manager for Havre de Grace. "I think because of the nature of her store, the fact that it's very design-oriented ... the character of the building is probably that much more critical to the success of her shop."
The city also wins when people invest in restoration, Roche said. "The historic integrity of the buildings, for our merchants and our shops to reflect that and celebrate that, it's definitely going to benefit the city."
She said a number of Havre de Grace shops operate in rehabilitated historic structures.
For Gamble, the nearly six months of work was worthwhile. "It was everything I wanted," she said. "I love this space."