Wayside Inn

George Washington is believed to have slept at the Wayside Inn when he was a general in the U.S. Army. If so, he is one of countless visitors who have spent the night there over the past 230 or so years. (Staff photo by Brian Krista / July 9, 2012)

The old-but-reliable Westinghouse oven in the historic Wayside Inn, where George Washington surely must have stayed, fills the kitchen with the aroma of freshly baking pastries most mornings, as six-cheese omelets bubble and spatter on the stove.

But the days are numbered for the fancy homemade breakfasts prepared with care by owner David Balderson. The bed-and-breakfast hotel off Route 29, which is believed to date back to 1780 and many locals know as "that stone house with the candles in the windows," is for sale.

In fact, there may no longer be guest bedrooms tidied up and shifts of breakfast served daily by anyone since maintaining the property as a B&B isn't a condition of sale. The handsome Ellicott City inn where the first president of the United States likely slept can also be purchased for use as a private residence.

That possibility leaves admirers to wonder what the future holds for the million-dollar-plus property.

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The inn is being marketed with a $1.2 million price tag by listing agent Elaine Northrop on behalf of the Creig Northrop Team of Long and Foster Real Estate. Since it was listed March 29, it has also been available for the turnkey price of $1.25 million, which covers the property and its contents.

Northrop said there has been good activity on the listing, especially for such a unique commercial property that's only been on the market for three months.

The Howard County landmark began life as the farmhouse on a large Ellicott City tobacco plantation, explained Balderson.

At the time, then-Gen. Washington was believed to have been traveling through the area, and, as a fellow plantation owner, he "would have stopped to pay his respects," Balderson said.

Prior to 2006, motorists had long enjoyed the glimpse of a bygone era that they were able to frequently steal of the three-story, Federal-style home situated on the west side of Route 29 — especially at night with the candles blazed. That all changed that year with the construction of noise barriers that obliterated drivers' views of the granite structure, which sits at 4344 Columbia Road between the exits to routes 103 and 108.

"Those barriers were one of the best things that ever happened to the Wayside," said Balderson, 60, who purchased it in 1998 with his wife, Susan. Located within 100 feet of busy Route 29, the B-and-B was a pretty noisy place then despite its 20-inch-thick granite walls, he said.

"We almost didn't go through with the sale after sleeping there," said the former McCormick Spice Co. executive, recalling his less-than-restful overnight stay. But, he believed the purchase was meant to be and clung to his dream, reopening for business a year after he bought it, in October 1999.

Curiosity, memories

The Baldersons' decision to sell has piqued curiosity and stirred up memories.

Mary Catherine Cochran, founder of Preservation Howard County and one of the six children of former Howard County Executive Ed Cochran, remembers the Wayside Inn as a welcoming beacon when she was growing up in Clarksville in the 1960s.

"We used to drive back from visiting my grandparents in Harford County with all of us kids piled in the car and that seemed like a long trip at the time," she said. "When we saw the Wayside Inn with its candles twinkling in the windows, we knew we were almost home."

Local lore has revealed many variations of the tale explaining why the candles, long since gone electric, were always lit, Balderson said.

"I've heard so much mythology, including that a mother whose son had gone off to fight in the Civil War decided to keep them burning until he came home; and when he never returned, she kept them lit anyway," he said. Others like to say the house is haunted.

"The truth is the candles were indicative of a public house, and they showed that rooms were available," he said. For many years, a previous owner kept electric candles burning in all 35 windows, 24 hours a day — a fact, he says, that has appeared in "Ripley's Believe It or Not."

"Today, we make a show of extinguishing each guest's candle to indicate their room is no longer available," he said.

End of an era