The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage will celebrate its 75th anniversary starting April 28 with tours of some of the state's most lustrous historic gems.
Included in the anniversary tour are Whitehall, the home of 18th-century Gov. Horatio Sharpe, in Anne Arundel County; Ocean Hall, believed to be the state's oldest brick building, in St. Mary's County; and Waverly, the home of 19th-century Gov. George Howard, in Howard County.
More than 50 properties in Baltimore City and four counties are featured in the tour, which begins Saturday, April 28, with a peak into rowhouses and churches in the city's Bolton Hill neighborhood.
"Each one has a different personality," said Barbara White, chairwoman of the Bolton Hill tour.
The homes range from the grand free-standing house at 1305 Park Ave., built by a doctor with five daughters, to the 16-foot wide Edwardian townhouse at 1415 John St. that was restored by architect Doug Kelso and his wife, interior designer Claudia Sennett.
Like many of the homeowners, Kelso and Sennett have spent months getting ready for the tour, putting fresh paint on the walls and new plantings in the garden. The couple has been fixing up the home for more than 30 years, and "this is probably the most finished it's been," Sennett said.
White said some homeowners on the tour could see 1,000 visitors, although 300 or 400 visitors is more likely. "You want your house to look perfect," she said. "That's not always so easy."
After Bolton Hill, the pilgrimage moves May 5 to St. Mary's County, where tour chairwoman Anne Ridenour said the goal is to display the county's connection to the water.
"Our geographic focus is to bring visitors to historic homes and contemporary homes with water views," Ridenour said.
The homes include Ocean Hall, which was built in 1703, and the recently completed Whit's End residence of Anna Austin and Mark Whitten that features bamboo flooring and a yoga studio.
The St. Mary's County tour also will include stops at St. Clement's Island, where Maryland's first settlers landed, and lunch at the Port of Leonardtown Winery.
Homes and gardens in Talbot County will be on display May 12, including Chloras Point Farm and the Wilderness, properties once owned by the county's most prominent families. On May 19, the tour will feature properties in the Ellicott City area, including Waverly, Oakdale and the Shrine of St. Anthony.
The pilgrimage concludes May 20 in Anne Arundel County, where the highlight will be Whitehall, the elegant Palladian home of Horatio Sharpe, a provincial governor, and the first home in America with a full temple portico. The home was restored in the 1950s by Charles Scarlett Jr. and is a National Historic Landmark.
The property is owned by Brandywine Foundation, a private organization, which is seeking to make the home more accessible to the public. The tour is a step in that decoration, said Kathleen Burnett, a member of the foundation.
"It's a question of sharing an absolutely incredible place with people who would not normally be able to come there," she said.
Since its beginning, the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage has drawn attention to the state's historic treasures and worked to preserve them. The event traces its roots to 1930, when a group of Maryland garden enthusiasts decided to follow the example of friends in Virginia and arrange a tour of the state's homes to raise money for historic preservation.
The tour gained popularity even amid the Depression, said Margaret Powell, the organization's executive director. "I don't think they knew it was a depression," she said jokingly.
In 1937, the Maryland tour organizers separated from those in Virginia and, with the exception of a few years during World War II, the tour has been held every year since. Over the years, the event has raised more than $1 million for historic preservation projects, tour organizers said.
Plans for this year's tour began about a year ago. "I spent weeks calling" homeowners, said Howard County tour chairwoman Judy Draper. "I felt like I was stalking."
But those who agreed to have hundreds of visitors traipse through their homes and gardens said they did so to share the beauty and history of their properties.
"I love old homes," said Ann Hugel, whose Ellicott City home, White Hall Manor, was built in the early 1800s and belonged to the Dorsey family. "I'm always amazed at what I see in this house."
Along with seven bedrooms, hand-made moldings and expansive gardens, White Hall Manor is said to have a friendly ghost. Hugel credits the ghost with waking her one night by throwing open a latched bedroom door. When she got up to investigate, she smelled something burning and found a pot she had left unattended on the stove. (It's worth noting that the home was nearly destroyed by fire in 1893.)
Sallye Perrin, whose Bolton Hill home is also on the tour, has her own ghost story — a watery figure she saw soon after she and her husband, John von Briesen, moved in. Perrin said she believes the ghost was just "checking us out." Their three-story brick townhouse includes an enclosed cupola that offers panoramic views of the city. The basement houses a restored summer kitchen and von Briesen's American Flyer train garden.
"You feel like you're a caretaker in these houses, and I'm happy to have people see it," Perrin said.