A wreck of an old house has appeal for a special kind of couple, and like Sandi and John Kroh, winners of the first Baltimore Sun Historic Homes Contest, that is true of Jeff and Sharon Dillon.
They are great fans of "This Old House" and took the opportunity on a trip through New England to visit a house that had been restored for the TV show.
"I was thinking, 'We could do that,' " said Sharon. Her husband still wants to know what they were thinking when they bought the Hunt-Schmidt House in Phoenix almost 17 years ago.
The efforts of the Dillons to restore the 1850s blacksmith's house earned them the runner-up spot in the contest.
"The house has been carefully and lovingly restored both inside and out with great respect for all the original rooms and materials allowing some appropriate innovation, where necessary, especially in the kitchen and service spaces," said Baltimore architect and contest judge Walter Schamu in his evaluation.
"Also, the garden and adjoining out buildings help retain much of the historical character and rural feeling."
But it almost didn't happen.
"We actually had put money down on a new house," said Sharon Dillon, a special-education teacher at Patterson Mill Middle-High School. "Then we drove by this house. We kind of let ourselves in. It was unlocked. And that was it."
The property on which the house is located was part of a parcel owned in the 1850s by three partners, two of whom were eventually bought out by the third, James Slade. Wrongly believing himself to be deeply in debt, Slade hanged himself. Before that, he had sold a corner to George Hunt, who opened up a general store.
The Slade heirs sold a parcel to George Schmidt in 1891, who had been an apprentice to the family. He would go on to be smithy to the village first known as Unionville and then Long Green Valley for 64 years.
Schmidt would awake well before dawn and work into the night, sharpening the shoes of horses to navigate in the winter, wrote his daughter in a manuscript she left behind. In the dusty heat of the summer, he would sharpen the steel wheels of the carriages.
"He wanted to die in harness, and he almost did it," wrote Henrietta Schmidt Astin. "He only lived five weeks after his last trip to the shop. He died in July 1945 at the age of 82."
The house also served as the parsonage for the Long Green Mennonite congregation for a time. Two sisters rented out the house for years before selling, reluctantly, to the Dillons. The house is now registered to the Maryland Historical Trust.