Two years before Balderson retired from McCormick in 1998, the couple had put a 10-year plan into place with the end goal of owning and operating a bed-and-breakfast somewhere down the line. He bought six books on the topic to prepare; but just a few months after ending his 20-year career, he stumbled upon the "for sale" sign, and that was that.

"We purchased the inn within three months; though, Susan said I'd steamrolled over her," he said with a laugh.

But after 13 years, the Baldersons have set a new, two-year plan in motion that calls for him to retire as chief innkeeper and breakfast cook to seek out his next life adventure. Susan Balderson, a certified public accountant with theU.S. Justice Departmentin Baltimore, plans to continue working for several more years.

"My husband is the risk taker; I was a nervous wreck when we first bought the property," Susan Balderson said. "I definitely have mixed feelings about leaving it now, but 13 years is a long time to do this."

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Since reopening the inn that sellers Margo and John Osantowski had also operated as a bed-and-breakfast for 10 of their 20 years there, the Baldersons have overseen several expansion and renovation projects.

The couple not only added two more bedrooms and three bathrooms to the four-bedroom house they had bought unfurnished for $400,000, they oversaw the building of a sun room, rooftop deck and owners' wing.

A 250-year-old white oak tree greets guests at the entrance to the front walkway, and snapping turtles emerge from a backyard pond to lay eggs beneath the pine trees. A terrace and an herb garden complete the backyard, where small weddings have been held with a 10 p.m. curfew to respect neighbors' privacy.

Some neighbors had initially protested some of the Baldersons' plans at county hearings. A floor plan's reference to an English pub that previous owners had installed for private use had opponents convinced it would become a neighborhood watering hole in a residential area, he said.

"I hate bars, and would never have wanted one," Balderson said.

After the new owners agreed to meet certain conditions — such as not opening a restaurant or gift store, or starting a catering business, none of which they'd planned to do, he said — the opposition ended.

Slow process?

Balderson said he expects it will take a year or two to sell the Wayside Inn, perhaps even longer in the current economy.

"The industry was hit hard by the recession, and hundreds are on the market," he said.

Sabrina Stough, an Ellicott City resident who opened the Paradise Bed & Breakfast in Catonsville in 2009, said she was in the market for a larger property when she recently discovered the Wayside Inn listing online. She had also already met the Baldersons at industry conventions, she said.

"It's a very striking property," said Stough, who made an initial offer on the property that was declined. "They have done a marvelous job of renovating and expanding it."

Stough, who said she would operate both hotels if an agreement is reached, lamented that so many of the country's landmarks are "going away, and these are places that we will never get back."

B&B owners of historic properties, which she said frequently wind up in foreclosure, "have to do what makes financial sense," she said, "but when these properties are gone forever, the community loses out in the end."

Regarding Stough's offer, Northrop is not giving up. "We haven't yet reached a meeting of the minds; but hopefully, I can bring the owner and the buyer together," she said.

Fred Dorsey, president of Preservation Howard County, said he's pleased to hear the Wayside Inn may live on as a country inn, since the only other similar properties in the county are the Inn at Peralynna, on Route 108; and the Commodore Joshua Barney House, in Savage.

"The inn provided a significant stopping place for travelers coming and going to Ellicott City, and it represents a significant time in Howard County history," Dorsey said. "It's always been well taken care of, and it's encouraging to hear it may remain a bed and breakfast."

Balderson said nothing takes higher priority than finding the right buyer.

"I'm not going to sell to any Tom, Dick or Harry," he said:

"This property has been cherished by all of its previous owners, and I will make sure that it will continue to be cherished."