House tour to promote restoration

Potential renovators will get a realistic look at the ups and downs of redoing old homes.


Residents of five historic Carroll homes will open their doors Saturday, hoping to encourage others to restore the worthwhile old rather than build all new.

The Carroll County Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Uniontown Inc. have organized a bus tour that promises visitors a behind-the-scenes look at living in homes that date to the 19th century and earlier.

The preservation group chose homes in Westminster and Uniontown that it said blends historic roots and fabric with gentle modernizations that integrate contemporary living.

"We hope to educate the community and interest them in restoration and renovation," said Norma Jean Swam, chairwoman of the preservation commission. "They can see what they can do."

The homeowners have promised to answer all questions with candor.

"I like the questions," said Nick Vincent, a 19-year resident of Uniontown, along with his wife, Chris Vincent. "This tour should be called `So you wanna live in an older house.' People will see stuff that needs to be painted and repaired. We will tell them there is constant work on upkeep."

The tour will stop at the home of Mary Ellen and Walt Bay, and stay for lunch in the barn the couple restored recently for their son's wedding.

"Lunch for 50 will be easy after having 150 people for a wedding," she said.

The Bays will also show off their home, a log-oak design whose deed dates to the 18th century, and the grounds they have planted with native trees and shrubs.

"Older houses are smaller than the ones built today, but they have a charm the new ones can't replicate," said Mary Ellen Bay. "If you can find one and both partners are willing, you should do it. These homes are part of our heritage and history."

The Bays' homestead also includes a carriage house, hog shed and summer kitchen, a small building that was rolled on logs from an adjoining property after the Civil War. The Bays have used it for an office and guest house.

"Both of us were raised on farms and didn't want to live in a town," said Mary Ellen Bay, an interior designer. "We found this place 40 years ago. It took us 11 years to get everything done, and we have enjoyed it ever since. I have worked on hundreds of houses, and I really think the charm comes out in the older ones."

The Vincents first saw their 1804 home 21 years ago on a house tour. Two years later, Chris Vincent spotted the "for sale" sign while on a field trip with her elementary school pupils.

"When we settled, the owner told us she didn't have a key because she never locked the house and that she had lost a diamond out of her ring," Nick Vincent said. "Three weeks later, I was finishing up some painting and I found the diamond."

Like many owners, Molly Pritchett, who got her diamond back, left her mark on the Uniontown home. She stenciled the names and dates of residence of all the owners on the floor of the upstairs hallway.

In an old window frame of the same hall, the Vincents have collected nails, pottery shards, linoleum samples and wallpaper - all unearthed during renovations.

In its 200 years, the brick-over-log house - the third built in the small town of about 200 - has alternately served as a tavern, general store and meeting hall.

When previous owners added the storefront and a second story to the log cabin, they encased the building in brick. The last addition - one room on each story - was done in 1911.

Along the foyer and up the stairwell, a local artist painted a mural loosely depicting the surrounding countryside and history of Uniontown.

The couple remodeled the kitchen a few years ago and found a 1940 edition of The Evening Sun under the floorboards. They framed it and replaced it with a 1999 edition of The Sun.

They kept the front room as a general store to show off their favorite collectibles, including Santas, antique bottles and advertising signs. One glass-front cabinet is filled with quilts, and Chris Vincent uses a showcase to exhibit the ice cream molds from her grandparents' bakery.

Throughout the home on Uniontown's only street - Uniontown Road - are pieces Nick Vincent, a blacksmith, has created: iron lamps and candleholders, whimsical sculptures, even a king-sized iron bed sculpted with dogwood flowers.

The Vincents have always lived in older houses, even though the work is constant and "there is never enough thyme," according to a sign posted in their home. They and the Bays will encourage prospective homebuyers to consider restoration.

"They will see houses of different ages in different stages, as they are," Mary Ellen Bay said. "If you want perfect walls, maybe restoration is not for you. But it is not undoable, and when you get through, you will have something to enjoy for many years."

The tour is limited to 54 participants, who will board a bus at the County Office Building in Westminster. Organizers have stressed that there will be a lot of walking.

The bus departs at 9 a.m. Saturday. Reservations are required. Cost is $55 and includes a boxed lunch. Proceeds benefit Historic Uniontown Inc. 410-386-2029.

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