James Knowles has owned the house at 5560 Gayland Road in Arbutus for about 50 years. Now 86, he is selling it as it has gotten harder for him to take care of the residence, which has more than 4,000 square feet of space. (Staff photo by Ed Bunyan / May 24, 2012)

The Windcrest Estate at 5560 Gayland Road stands out as a beacon of a now-past era.

A majority of the houses in the quiet Arbutus neighborhood stand no more than two stories tall, sit about 25 feet apart from each other and have wood siding.

The Windcrest Estate, a three-story brick building built in 1838, sits on a 3/4 acre plot atop a hill that requires 17 steps to reach the 60-foot walkway to the porch, which has another dozen steps.

Inside, owner James Knowles showed off the estate's nine fireplaces, five to seven bedrooms, ornate wood-carved door frames and the original Georgia pine floor boards.

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Other than a recently-installed furnace, the only thing new about the house is the 'For Sale' sign out front.

Knowles, 86, decided to sell the estate with a list price of $379,000 because he can no longer maintain the building after a fall three years ago left him with a head injury and broken arm and leg.

"You just can't believe all the little things you have to do," said Knowles, before descending three flights of stairs with his cane in hand.

The house's 4,025 square feet offer the potential for a variety of uses, but Knowles hopes it remains a family residence.

In its lifetime, the building served as the home of the Linthicum family, a lookout for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, a nightclub with dancing and gambling during Prohibition and a country club and church in the early to mid 20th century.

It was added to the county's historic landmarks list in 1998, according to an article in the Arbutus Times.

"It has quite a lot of history," said Baltimore County historian John McGrain in the article.

Restoring the house took years, and Knowles came to appreciate its quirks, such as learning to cook over hot coals in the kitchen fireplace and sharing the residence with nocturnal winged critters.

"I got used to the bats," Knowles said, noting the problem has ceased since installing dampers. "I would open the door and they would fly out."

He saw the potential of the estate when he bought it in 1964 for between $10,000 and $20,000, Knowles said.

A Baltimore City native, he recalled how the real estate agent wouldn't walk through the house, claiming it was haunted.

With its numerous broken windows and a bat infestation, many others likely held a similar opinion.

Knowles, a history buff who worked at the Smithsonian as a maritime historian for more than 20 years before retiring in 1986, bought the home with an idea — to return it to its original glory.

"It was here and I thought I might as well restore it and bring it back to the way it was," Knowles said.

Knowles added some modern amenities, such as a sink and oven in the kitchen, but took care to ensure the house kept its historic charm.

The kitchen, for example, still doesn't have cabinets, because in the 19th century hutches were used instead.