As a newborn, Elyssa Baxter was brought home to her family's restored log house in McLean, Va. Seventy-two years later, not only would she and her husband own a similar restored log home in Parkton, but they would be invited to take part in the 77th annual Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, whose 2014 theme is "extraordinary historic properties."
"This home carries on a family tradition and the interest of my mother and father to own and maintain a log cabin," said Baxter, a former art teacher. "Not only is this house unique, it is a labor of love and pride [as] we continue to immerse ourselves into the history of the area."
Baxter's home is one of eight properties featured in the Baltimore County portion of the tour. Prince George's, Talbot, Kent and Calvert counties will also be showcased over the pilgrimage's six weekends, from April 26 to May 31.
In Baltimore County's Parkton area, which was predominantly rural until the last part of the 20th century, these historic properties include the Wiseburg Inn or Half-Way House, circa 1804, along York Road; the old Parkton School House, built in 1889; Castle Calder, a two-story brick home erected by Capt.James Calder in 1876; and, of course, the Baxter House, dating to 1804.
The home has been renamed "Nostalgia 1804" (as carved on a wooden sign hung from the front porch) by Baxter and her husband, Alex, 76, a retired history teacher. The couple enjoy the fruits of their restoration labors over the last 31 years in what Elyssa Baxter considers a home that is "warm, welcoming and filled with nostalgic items from another time frame always reminding us of our cherished past."
In 1983, the Baxters purchased the home and three outbuildings — a springhouse, summer kitchen and barn — sitting on 5 acres, for $84,000. In 1989, they sold off 3 acres to help fund additions.
The Baxters' collection of memorabilia fits flawlessly with the home's architectural design, which contains the original, two-story log house and two additions: a two-story, four-room Victorian addition and another the Baxters built in 1989-1990, which included a new kitchen, dining room/library and bathroom.
Elyssa Baxter serves as both master gardener and artist for the property. She pays homage to the simple things with laughing wooden cutouts wearing wigs and "dancing" by the barn. A tree has been decorated with colorful bottles in its branches and a B&O caboose model perched at the top like a star on a Christmas tree.
While there is more than one entrance to the house, the red wooden door (with authentic iron hardware) to the original log cabin beckons most strongly. The view as soon as you enter the home defines warm and cozy.
The walls are made of mortar and chestnut logs, and wide, roughly hewn chestnut and cherry beams compose the ceiling. A stone hearth dominates the space. Walnut, hickory and cherry furniture sit on the brick floor, which is partly covered by deep red and blue Oriental rugs. A narrow, circular iron stairway leads to a bedroom above and a very small sitting room. This two-story structure, in its day, was considered large and a testament to its owner's wealth.
A dining room/library segues from the cabin's main floor. It is impossible to tell it is part of the 1989 addition, and for that, Baxter takes credit.
"I designed the dining room by researching materials that would possibly have been used in the early 1900s," she said. "I decided to continue the brick flooring [here] and was lucky to come across old, oversized bricks in York, Pa."
There are further details she used to make the flow from old cabin to 20th century seamless, such as using old barn timber for the framework around doorways. Heart pine is used for the library shelving and window casings.
"I used the technique of allowing more light into old houses by having the window casings angled outward," Baxter said. "Stone pavers were selected to face the fireplace [and] below, another old barn timber used for the mantel."
Furnishings include a carved walnut dining table with her mother's cherry ladder-back chairs and a corner cabinet containing the family silver. There is also a large mahogany chest to store linens and other table accessories.
A side wall opens onto a remodeled kitchen, which reflects a simpler era through the couple's collection of antique tins, jars and kitchen accessories, such as a large commercial coffee grinder from the 1920s. Decades-old advertising signs hang on the walls, promoting products such as Nichol Kola, Coca-Cola, M&M's and Camel cigarettes. The kitchen also contains side-by-side stoves, hickory cabinets and ceiling beams, and an antique tin backsplash.
The 19th-century sitting room addition off the kitchen is decorated with period wing chairs and tables, silk draperies and a fireplace. A standout in the formal parlor is an 1880s Knabe piano, manufactured in Baltimore. The two rooms also feature authentic horsehair-plaster walls. Two upstairs bedrooms are accessed by a wooden staircase.
"This home fulfills our dreams to be an active, living, breathing part of history," Baxter said. "Not everyone gets this chance, and we continue to 'live the dream.'"
If you go
What: Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage
Where: Parkton, Baltimore County tour
When: Sunday, May 4
Tickets: $30 in advance
More information: 410-821-6933, mhgp.org
Additional tours: Prince George's County, Saturday, April 26;
Talbot County, Saturday, May 10; Calvert County, Saturday, May 17;
Kent County, Saturday, May 31