History on the auction block

The 19th-century manor Gray Gables in Harford County is to be sold Saturday

June 18, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

A stately Queen Anne manor in Darlington goes on the auction block Saturday, offering bidders all its 19th-century charm and money to help restore it to its gabled grandeur.

The three-story, seven-bedroom home was built in 1884 on 13 acres along what was once Harford County's busy highway to Philadelphia and was immediately dubbed Gray Gables. The property, including the home, carriage house and barn, will be sold with a nearly $300,000 endowment that will allow its owner use of the interest to fix up the place.

"This is an incredibly unusual aspect of this sale," said Richard Brand, administrator for financial assistance and easements with the Maryland Historical Trust, the state's preservation agency, which owns the property. "It should be enticing to buyers, who, within a five- or six-year period, could pay for much of the repairs."

The sale comes with restrictions the trust has put in place since Isabel Scriven bequeathed the property and all its contents to the state about seven years ago. The trust will continue to administer the $273,963 endowment, allowing the owner to use the interest for "maintenance, repair and upkeep, including fire and comprehensive insurance," according to trust officials.

Although the paint is flaking profusely from the shingles and the multileveled roof leaks in many spots, the home must stay gray and gabled.

"It has been Gray Gables for more than 120 years, and it has got to be kept gray," Brand said. "This is a great house that just needs painting. The structure is in great shape."

Jay Edwards & Associates, a Harford-based auction company that will conduct the sale, scheduled open houses to give the public a preview.

"Walter Cope, the original architect, was a real innovator, way ahead of his time," auction house owner Jay Edwards said. "He came down from Philadelphia and built several houses in the area with multileveled roofing."

Visitors can tour the property from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday or before the auction, which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday. About 30 prospective buyers saw the home last week and were awed by its wrap-around porch, intricately carved woodwork, built-in bookcases and dual staircases.

"You can close your eyes and go back in time," said Teresa Cook, a mortgage officer who expects to be at the auction. "These sales let you see pieces of people's homes and lives. This home has age to it and still a lot of beauty."

Ruben Elliott, a Darlington resident for all of his 81 years, remembered when his brother farmed Gray Gables' fields.

"There is a lot of work to keep this place up and a lot of changes you can't make because of the restrictions," Elliott said. "Historical preservation costs too much."

In addition to the endowment, the new owner could apply for federal and state preservation tax credits for restoration work.

"There would be a ton of work, but you would have a house with character," said Stephanie Boggs, who lives down the road from Gray Gables.

Nancy Fox of Bel Air recalled church services on the lawn at Gray Gables and the time the housekeeper yelled out the window, warning a worshiper about a snake on his foot.

Fox, who is building a retirement home in South Carolina, planned to bid on a few of the home's antiques.

"There are so many really priceless things," she said. "I might not get anything, but I want to see what they go for."

Frances Kitz of Glen Arm marveled at the pottery, crystal and oriental carpets.

"It seems like a lot of these things should go to a museum," she said. "All you have to do is blow the dust off to see the beauty of what is here."

Edwards said the auction will feature many fine antiques, the likes of which "have evaporated from the area."

The auction will probably draw bidders from the Mid-Atlantic area, Edwards said. The trust has set a minimum acceptable price for the home but will remain flexible, he said.

"There will be sufficient market to obtain a sale," he said. "Generally, the combination of real estate and personal property plays to a large audience. All we need is a high-energy person who wants to have a beautiful place to live."

Proceeds will go into the trust's general fund for preservation projects.

"People who leave us property can expect that we will protect it, but we don't keep it," Brand said. "We don't have the staff to manage property."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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