Loving his very antique way of life

Passion: A man's interest in his ancestors' way of life led to a business in which he collects treasures for himself and others.

November 16, 2003|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bill Murrow speaks in a slow and melodious voice, his words full of adjectives for the high-end antiques showcased in his renovated barn on Main Street, Fawn Grove, Pa.

On his scenic 14 acres sit the Victorian house and barn where Murrow and his wife, Karen, have room for antiques, mo-peds, glassware, and goats, chickens and guinea birds. Murrow, 46, drove by the house for years while he did business selling antiques at a shop in Ellicott City. He finally bought it for his wife and son, Grant, now 9.

This is the place where his collections and farming coexist, while Karen Murrow teaches school and Grant does his homework. Murrow entertains with his guitar and drum group in one of the farm's outbuildings, but aside from that, it is a quiet place - sprawling farmland with few neighbors, good road frontage near the Mason-Dixon Line and a hiking trail. Visitors, customers and relatives feel at home with Murrow, and city folk may even pet his black rooster, Elvis.

On weekends, Murrow, a nephew of the famous broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, buys and sells pieces of furniture or estates in a business that was 30 years in the making and reaches antiques dealers from coast to coast.

Murrow enthusiastically tries to save money for customers who want to buy things they can fix up, or who are seeking unique furniture, or who just want to talk antiques.

His customers seem pleased to have discovered the place.

Lindy McNutt, a Bel Air businessman and fellow musician, says Murrow sold him a Chippendale dining table. McNutt then gave Murrow an idea of what else he needed, and, six years later, Murrow found the matching eight chairs.

Christine Engle and her daughter, Brianna, 16, of Ellicott City have many of Murrow's finds in their home. "They are all unique," says Brianna. "They create a warm feeling."

The best feature of the property, according to Karen Murrow, is that the house and barn have plenty of room for her husband's hobbies. In the parlor, there's camel memorabilia - lamps, teapots, refrigerator magnets and more - arranged in an antique oak china closet he bought for $1,600 and intended to sell but never did. It's full. "I got more camels around," Murrow confesses. "That's my favorite stuff. I love camels. No doubt about it."

In addition to being roomy, the house draws curiosity from local historical society members. It has an Underground Railroad hideaway marked in the cabin foundation under the house.

Murrow is a restoration expert, and people can find items such as a solid cherry canopy bed or a statue from Baltimore's Belvedere Hotel. Some pieces, such as the 1630 chair that is attached high up a barn wall, are not to be sold. A Victorian walnut cylinder roll desk from 1870, and various hutches and desks, are "ready to go for another 100 years," Murrow says.

But there is a downside: There has been a decline in antique sales, Murrow says. And since suffering a bout of Lyme disease, he has lost some momentum, he says.

During the week, Murrow works at a mechanical job making stakes, while keeping an eye out for projects - growing crops, corn, broccoli, or cabbages, and selling direct; making a pond at the wet pasture fronting the road, or maybe opening a bed-and-breakfast.

The blues

When he is not working at his antiques business and his regular job, Murrow plays the blues. He has an abiding love of blues singers and plays weekly with McNutt, Craig Ward and Mike Lang from Bel Air. He has many recordings of their songs, mostly original and all about women and loss, he says. "Waste Away," a song he wrote about himself, describes a "guy that never is happy with anything he has ever done, and how long is it going to be before he just ... wastes away?"

"We do a lot of songs that these original blues singers did," he says, knowledgeable about the likes of Skip James, B.B. King and other blues stars.

While occasionally taking trips to see concerts, Murrow has remained close to Harford County. Like many other antique dealers in the area, he grew up in the county.

Family history

Murrow was born in Baltimore in 1957 and grew up in the Blackhorse area of Troyer Road, attended Norrisville Elementary, where his name is in the cornerstone as one of the first pupils there. He also attended a private church school in Harford County.

His mother's Quaker family moved to Troyer Road from Philadelphia and is buried in the Fallston Quaker burial ground. His mother was a descendant of President William Henry Harrison, who caught pneumonia at his inaugural speech and died within 30 days of taking office.

His parents, who met in 4-H, had a long marriage, but it ended in divorce. Nevertheless, the family farm provided a lot of memories.

"We lived the horse-and-buggy lifestyle," Murrow said. "By the time I was born, they only had electric on the farm for five years, since 1952."

"My great-grandfather had a sawmill, run by a tractor," Murrow said.

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