But the three-story, L-shaped classic brick farmhouse and its slate roof were still structurally sound.

Even better, according to Herman, the house, during its long life, hadn't been "re-muddled" with the sort of tacky, do-it-yourself style of home improvements that often unwittingly damage or destroy a building's historic integrity.

"The biggest challenge was with the site of the house itself," said Herman, who is also involved in rehabbing the historic brick buildings at Sykesville's Warfield Complex, which were once part of Springfield State Hospital Center.

"The house (at Wilson's Inheritance) was built in a low-lying area, almost next to a stream, which was pretty common back in 1832 when it was built, since settlers wanted to be close to water and have a springhouse," he said.

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The result, Herman explained, was an excessive amount of moisture in the soil around and under the foundation.

"Because it's a brick house, the water wicks up into the brick walls and the plaster, and it rots everything that it touches," he added.

This was remediated with gutters and downspouts tied into a drainage system, which diverted water away from the house and into a nearby stream. It also involved installing drain tiles, sump pumps and a radiant heating system in the basement floor to drain and evaporate any residual moisture.

The award is not the first time the company has been recognized, according to its website. Herman Construction received a 2001 Howard County Historic Preservation Award in 2001, a Historic Preservation Award from Baltimore Heritage in 1996 for its work on a Baltimore property and a National Historic Trust Preservation Award in 1996 for its exterior rehabilitation of Bloomfield, in Sykesville.

"It was a great opportunity," Herman said of the Wilson's Inheritance project. "The circumstances allowed me to do what I like to do and what I do best, and it was very satisfying to be able to help Emil White achieve his dream.

"In fact, we even used to joke that he was one of the best bosses we ever had," Herman added with a smile, "because, other than leaving us those hidden messages, he didn't bother us at all."