Dream home: Restored to glory

Melanie Dorsey inherited a Howard County farmhouse that had been in her family for nearly 300 years and turned it into a historic and homey retreat

September 26, 2010|By Marie Marciano Gullard, Special to The Baltimore Sun

In 1719, a land grant of 1,200 acres in Howard County was presented to Thomas Worthington by Lord Baltimore. This land, along with the original structure Worthington built on it in the mid-18th century, has remained in the family to this day.

Almost 300 years later, Melanie Dorsey, Thomas Worthington's great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, inherited the manor house, eight outbuildings and 133 acres of land (the rest parceled out over the years) from her great-aunt and uncle.

Dorsey speaks fondly of her memories there and those of her father, who still regales everyone with stories of long summers spent on Richland Farm. There was never any doubt that Dorsey and her husband, Dan Standish, both practicing attorneys, would move from Montgomery County and take occupancy of the rambling, eight-bedroom historic property — eventually.

Additions to the 1770 two-story log kitchen and living room included an entire two-story west wing built in 1846 and, behind that, a very large two-story wing at the rear of the house constructed in 1920 by Dorsey's great-aunt and uncle, who at an advanced age, leased it out.

Years of renting had taken their toll on the 10,000 square-foot Southern Colonial manor house. "We wanted to restore the home to its glory days when Bayard Turnbull [a Baltimore architect] added to it in 1920," said Standish, who noted that that addition was the last time any updates were made to the home.

"There were burst pipes, [issues with] plumbing and plaster [and] all of the interior logs were painted over in lead-enamel yellow," Dorsey added.

The couple hired Ken Mauck construction for the restoration work, which has earned the home a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. His team began work in December 2004 on the home's eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, log cabin kitchen and living room, antebellum parlor and formal sitting room, smoking and reading rooms, study and front and back staircases.

Mauck's first necessary task was to place steel beams into the ceilings of the 18th-century rooms because the log rafters were seriously sagging. Maple flooring was repaired throughout the home, and central oil heat was installed. Long floor-to-ceiling windows (all of which needed reglazing) and a 22-column wrap-around porch, together with large outdoor evergreens adorning the home's exterior, made central air conditioning unnecessary. The only 2005 addition to the home was a small kitchen so the couple could use the original log cabin kitchen as their dining room.

After two years of impeccably detailed work, the couple, along with their two daughters, Dorsey, 20, and Kate, 17, were able to take occupancy.

Details of the home's interior are as interesting (and sometimes unbelievable) as the grandeur of the surroundings. For example, the only pieces of furniture the couple bought to fill 10,000 square feet of space were two sofas for the living room. The rest of the pieces, in what would easily be an antiques dealer's dream find, are original to the house.

When Melanie Dorsey took possession of the property, she inherited the keys to the home's attics. There, she and Standish found a treasure trove of furniture, artwork and everyday items spanning four centuries, all of which were stored in outdoor pods during restoration and now take their places in rooms throughout the home. A walk through the manor house is a stroll through architectural and American decorative arts history.

The original log structure is dominated by a formal, mahogany table made to seat 20-25 people. A remarkable stone fireplace with hanging copper pots gives pause, as do numerous ceramic jugs resting by the hearth, a 300-year-old spinning wheel and butter churn. The room could easily be mistaken for a museum re-creation were it not for the breezes blowing in from open windows and the view beyond them of green grass, a smokehouse dating from the 1700s, a bank barn, a stable dating from the mid-1800s, a crib house and a two-story farm-hand's quarters.

Walking through the manor home with its wide entrance hall, sweeping front staircase, walls filled with oil paintings of beloved ancestors and their precious possessions placed about the restored rooms, a nagging, slightly uneasy thought begs for an answer. Is the house haunted?

The couple, as well as Mauck's staff on the restoration project, have stories to tell of unexplainable incidents, many in the daylight. There is a portrait of a Dorsey great-uncle that, for no apparent reason, flew from its honored position on the fireplace mantel in the study, barely missing Standish. The workers noted that closed windows in one room were found open when they resumed work the next day, and also how they were often aided in the performance of tricky tasks with tools — always when their backs were turned.

But Dorsey and Standish, along with their daughters who will one day inherit the property, have no reason to fear the ghosts. For them, it's all in the family.

Richland Farm

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