A retiree finds his log house is nonstop job


Richard Bagley bought a log house in downtown Sykesville 24 years ago and has been working on it ever since. He calls it his ever-evolving dream home.

The building, which dates to the mid-19th century, has housed his family and, at one time, his small ceramics business. He is retired now, but not from constant maintenance that costs at least $3,000 annually. Logs that are more than 150 years old need considerable care, he said.

"All the time there is something that has to be done," he said. "I just get the bills and hand them to my wife. She never seems to mind."

There is nothing structurally that Bagley cannot tell a visitor about his home. He knows every inch of its walls and has even rebuilt its foundation. He has found artifacts in the 5-foot-high basement that indicate the building predates the Civil War.

What Bagley calls his home is not the typical log cabin - it has three stories, not the usual one.

The 64-year-old retiree, who also was a house painter, does not mind erecting the scaffolding every few years and applying dark brown stain to the old beams, which are mostly oak and chestnut.

He likes to keep busy and is constantly finding projects. He spends as much time in his new workshop, in a shed behind the house, as he does inside his home. There, he can find uses for items that most people would discard. A fallen tree becomes material for intricate carvings, such as the angel hanging at the workshop entrance.

He has turned old 5-gallon gas tanks into sonorous wind chimes and hung them from the frame of a large wooden swing. Boulders unearthed by town construction crews a few years ago helped him create a peaceful setting for a pond in his garden.

Years ago, Bagley redid the plumbing and electrical systems, tore out interior walls and modernized the kitchen and bath.

When Bagley removed the second-story ceiling and found the original beams, he stained them and left them exposed. The interior walls mirror the exterior: logs alternating with plaster. But, some of it is drywall painted to resemble the outside walls. Bagley is so adept at faux finishing that it is difficult to determine which are the real logs and stones.

He and his wife, Kay, have a large living area with his and her corners: Hers has a computer and his has a drawing board and ample space for his easel. Much of his artwork is based on Sykesville and its history. His works include a mural of turn-of-the century Sykesville, which decorates a wall in the community room at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, his Main Street neighbor.

But his garden is his greatest triumph. He ushers visitors to a seat beside his fish pond or for a look into his workshop. A door on the garden shed converts to a banquet-size table, when the Bagleys hold a cookout.

The garden is the best-kept secret in town, he said, hidden by a thick stand of bamboo. "Everybody that sees it tells me they never knew it was back here," he said.

Some of the bamboo plants are 20 feet high. "They are a constant battle because they can take over a garden, but they are pretty and work out good with the garden," he said.

The bamboo fits with the Oriental nature of his planting scheme. Statues of dragons, pagodas and Asian deities overlook a pond filled with the many goldfish his grandchildren won at local carnivals. The fish are flourishing; several are downright hefty, he said.

Every now and then, an errant turtle or frog will share space in the 18-inch-deep pond. In the evenings, Japanese lanterns, hanging in the bamboo trees, lend a festive atmosphere.

Large rocks line the pond and a small bridge allows visitors to walk across it to a secluded sitting area. He has made the outdoor furniture, built the bridge, deck and the workshop. He is finishing a swing now.

What first attracted Bagley to the home was the possibility of a storefront on Main Street, a location that was ideal for his small ceramics business.

According to town archives, the home, which is part of Sykesville's historic district, has been a parsonage, a general store and occasionally a polling place. Some town historians say the original section of the home may date to 1836, but Bagley has not been able to trace the precise date.

A frame addition was built onto the home in the 1880s and Bagley has recently covered its exterior in cedar shakes. All exterior restoration must be in accordance with historic district guidelines, which say the original faM-gade must be preserved as nearly as possible. When Bagley had to replace the front door, he spent months trying to match the original, finally ordering one from a Canadian lumber yard.

"I had to find a new door that looked like the period when this house was built," he said.

The heavy oak door won the approval of the town's historic commission, as did the field stone wall that separates the front entrance from the sidewalk.

Bagley closed his ceramics business several years ago and now rents the first floor to a dog groomer - a convenience for a landlord who owns two dogs, he said. He and his wife live on the second and third floors.

This summer, he is reworking the windows and again, staining the logs deep brown and redoing the plaster between them. The cream-colored plaster covers a cement-like mixture of sand, lime and flat stones, some of which will also have to be replaced or readjusted.

Some of these stones have gotten loose and are sticking out too far, he said. He is up to the second floor now on the south side of the building and working from scaffolding.

"I am probably working harder now than when I was working," Bagley said.

"It is always something and it never ends. But, when I finally retired," he said, "I promised myself that I would not do things for anybody else's house until mine was done."

That could mean he'll never work for anyone else again, he said with a laugh.

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