Fishing shack becomes jewel on the Severn Little Round Bay's wildlife dominates the perspective of getaway built in 1919


Jane and Peter Campbell-Chambliss have to watch their step when walking along the edge of their Little Round Bay property.

If not, they're likely to trip over a couple of horseshoe crabs mating at the edge of the Severn River.

And that's just the beginning. From the deck of their Crownsville house, the Campbell-Chamblisses can observe a veritable "Who's Who" of Chesapeake Bay wildlife -- osprey, swans, Canada geese, ducks, otters, muskrats, crabs, fish, snakes and bald eagles.

"The Severn is a protected and watched and very quiet river," Mrs. Campbell-Chambliss noted, pointing out nearby St. Helena Island.

Serendipitous find

Local lore has it that, during Prohibition, St. Helena Island was popular with local bootleggers and home to a notorious speakeasy. Today the private island is home to two families, one of which lives in the island's Georgian mansion.

The couple continue to watch the river and its denizens from most of the rooms in their house, which, she says, has finally reached the end of a 20-year-plus restoration and expansion.

It was serendipitous that the couple found the house. "Years ago I was driving around for my job and checking zoning violations, such as illegal piers," she said, "when I just tripped over the place."

"The place," which is set on three-quarters of an acre and has 100 feet of waterfront, had been built as a beach shack/fishing cottage about 1919.

"It was someone from Baltimore's weekend place to go fishing," she said. "There was an open screen front and back porch, living room, kitchen, bedroom and an attic that you couldn't get to. And then there was a sort of bathroom."

The couple came upon about 35 rollaway beds, apparently to accommodate hordes of weekend fishermen. Other amenities, such as closets, were virtually nonexistent.

She is an auctioneer with R. H. Campbell and Associates, which was founded by her father. He promotes tourism for the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

After the two purchased the property for $75,000 in 1976, they immediately set to work making serious repairs and expanding the property. Over the years they estimate they've spent more than $100,000 renovating the house.

Miniature museum

The front porch with its view of the river was turned into a year-round room. Heated in the winter by a free-standing wood fireplace, the room also serves as a miniature museum for Mrs. Campbell-Chambliss' collection of rare Maryland duck decoys.

A spiral wood staircase created by her husband descends to the first floor from the second floor.

"Downstairs was originally a mud room with a shower," she said. The space today is enclosed and used as a reading area. Adjacent is his darkroom.

Upstairs on the second floor is the just-renovated kitchen, with its Corian counter tops and eating area -- and river view. Also displayed here are her various bottles of homemade vinegars and her collection of baskets -- including a rare Pennsylvania Dutch slat basket and several Navajo coil baskets that are more than a century old.

In what had been an attic, the couple created a home-office that can be reached by another of her husband's wooden spiral staircases, with yet another view of Little Round Bay.

The second-floor living room has Georgia pine floors and a working fireplace that the couple also uses to heat the house. When they removed the drywall ceiling, they happily discovered oak-beamed ceilings.

The home also has a plethora of antiques -- primarily wicker and Victorian pieces, such as an 1840s balloon-back chair with its original needlepoint cushion.

A Victorian burled walnut fall-front desk, from about 1875, was recently restored.

"As a child, my husband's grandfather used to do his homework on this desk, and during the process of cleaning it, the restorer discovered that Peter's grandfather, as a little boy, had carved a sailboat into the wood."

A foyer (originally the cottage's back porch) has been enclosed and shelters a pine dry sink-washstand from the 1830s.

The couple enlarged the original bedroom by expanding and enclosing what remained of the back porch. Today the bedroom is used for guests, its adjoining bathroom having been completely renovated and updated.

The guest bedroom also features the two oldest pieces of furniture in the house: a cherry chest of drawers from 1810 and an Empire mirror from about the same period.

When the couple undertook the major expansion four years ago, they added a master bedroom, with cathedral ceilings, 24 feet of sliding glass doors and a fireplace. The bedroom faces, not unexpectedly, the water, and one can walk directly outside to the deck, with its Jacuzzi and pots of hibiscus and miniature orange trees.

"The record was 27 people in the Jacuzzi at one time," she said.

Jane Campbell-Chambliss tends an impressive herb garden of rosemary, curry, tarragon, catnip, mint, basil, chamomile, St. John's wort, oregano, thyme, sage, dill, lavender, chives and sorrel.

"I make probably 100 jars a year of vinegar for friends and use the herbs from the garden," she said.

In addition, she also draws from her flower garden and its lilies, roses, zinnias, snapdragons, gladiolas, marigolds and daisies to create the bowls of potpourri throughout the house.

Along with restoring much of the house, the couple also has had to replace the pier, which was damaged in the ice storm of 1977. Today the pier moors their boats and crab pots.

"It's so peaceful you really slow down when you come here," Mrs. Campbell-Chambliss said, while nearby the couple's three cats snoozed away.

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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