Dream home

Betsy and Charley Mitchell, along with their dog MacKenzie, are in the yard of the couple's historic stone property that dates to the 1700s. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / June 26, 2013)

Deep in the Hereford Zone of northern Baltimore County, narrow country roads slice through fields of waist-high corn, surprisingly tall for early summer. A lane running adjacent to a Christmas tree farm passes a few old barns; farther down the lane, there is a large, two-story wagon house in need of repair, another red barn, a chicken shed and a stable in the distance. Just beyond the shed and a vegetable garden sits the long and narrow farmhouse of Betsy and Charley Mitchell on 8 acres of what was formerly a nearly 500-acre tenant farm.

"We call the farm 'Belleview' and it's been around since the 1700s," said Betsy Mitchell, a 57-year-old antiques dealer. "This is a telescoping house that's only one room wide. The east end is the oldest part of the house, and it appeared on the tax rolls of 1800."

The center portion of the building, built of rubble and stucco to mimic the original, was added around 1860. On the far western end is a one-story addition built in the late 1960s, which serves as the home's kitchen and includes the bedroom and full bathroom suite of the couple's eldest son, Alec. It is also the only section of the 70-foot wide trio of connected buildings that is air-conditioned.

"We always wanted an old house," said Charley Mitchell, a 59-year-old writer, historian and alumni director for St. Paul's School.

So in March 2010, they left their large home in Lutherville, tired, Charley Mitchell said, "of the lawnmowers, the leaf blowers and street lamps" of suburbia, adding, "I'm all about it being dark outside at night."

The Mitchells paid $545,000 for the house, the property and the outbuildings.

With plans to redo the kitchen in the newest addition — a project still incomplete — the couple worked on the rest of the house. Three levels make up the original section, while the 1860 addition encompasses the home's living room (originally the kitchen), the dining room and two upstairs bedrooms. Two sets of staircases access the second levels, each original to its section.

"This house bears the scars of age — the back stairs are worn down to a curve in the middle, but we would never replace them. Think of all the feet that have trod those steps!" Betsy noted. "And the bumpy walls — the result of early plaster which was made of crushed limestone and not very smooth — are quite prized now." ("Faux old plaster" is being put in new spaces to "age" them.)

The couple had little difficulty furnishing their farmhouse. Most pieces were either inherited, such as the Potthast sideboard in the dining room, or carefully chosen for each space.

"As an antiques dealer — which means I am a collector — the job supports the habit," Betsy Mitchell said. "[Our] pieces … and others that we've purchased span the history of the house, from late 1700s to the present. Most, like the house, show the patina of age, whether a worn painted bench, a barnwood table or a cherry corner cupboard. I call it 'high country' style, and I hope it is warm and without pretension."

Art and artifacts abound throughout the home, especially those hanging on the walls.

"The art we have is very personal," she continued. "It mostly consists of portraits and still lifes by my mother-in-law, Polly Mitchell; watercolor landscapes by my mother, Alice Church; photography by our daughter; and my own serigraph prints. We round that out with a few old maps, prints and embroidered samplers that we have collected."

Charley Mitchell points to favorite collectible hanging in a place of honor on their living room wall. "[This is] a large, framed discharge of Betsy's great-grandfather from the Union army at the end of the Civil War," he said. "I love his handwritten additions to the document, noting other battles he fought in that were not cited on the discharge."

Outdoors, both enjoy the covered porch that spans most of the width of the two stone portions of the house. Here, their view of cornfields, soybeans and timothy grass is almost unending. Theirs are the simple pleasures of country living.

"One of my favorite things about this place is watching the wildlife — rabbits, raccoons, Ernie the groundhog and Ralph the snake," Charley Mitchell said. "When Ralph got onto the porch recently, I gently poke-checked him off the back door with my son's lacrosse stick."

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