The commanding Dumbarton House in Pikesville was built in 1860 as a wedding gift for the son of one of Baltimore's wealthiest residents and his bride.
One hundred forty years later, a used car salesman and a construction-company heiress planning to marry bought the house on the Internet. Then their relationship fell apart, the salesman was found dead on the front seat of his gold-colored Rolls Royce, and his family gave the house back to the lender to repay his debts.
So at noon today, the Victorian-style house - complete with a new eight-car garage - is up for grabs. A public auction will be held on the premises, 3412 Old Forest Road.
The asking price is $1.2 million, and $50,000 in cash or a certified check will be due at the time of purchase.
The auctioneers are emphasizing a long list of selling points: six bedrooms, 5 1/2 bathrooms, 12-foot ceilings, refinished wood floors, and six fireplaces, most of them marble. The glass in a bedroom window where the original bride, Rosa Walker, etched her name in June 1863 is still there.
But in many ways, the house is a shadow of its former self. For one thing, it once sat on a 479-acre estate. The Dumbarton Heights neighborhood of Pikesville was built around it in the 1950s, and the mansion now sits on just 1 acre.
Then there are the changes made by the last owner, Lee C. Parsons, who owned Parsons Auto Sales in West Baltimore and Magic Motors in Woodlawn until his death in June at age 48.
Parsons poured money into the house for projects such as refinishing the floors, said his father, Nate Parsons.
He also brought to it his eccentric style.
Lee Parsons was featured in The Sun in 1994 for his wild Western wardrobe, which included a ruby belt buckle, blue boots and a leather jacket with snake head epaulets.
At Dumbarton, he had murals painted on many walls and ceilings. One in a bedroom depicts a snake, parrots, monkeys, a gorilla and a giraffe; in another, flowers, hummingbirds and teacups cover the lavender walls. Pictures of cherubs surround many of the light switches.
Debbie Shavitz of Owings Mills, who rented part of the house in the early 1980s as a young mother, ran into her former landlord, Dorothy Hubatka, at an open house Wednesday night.
"It looks quite different than when you had it," Shavitz told Hubatka. "It doesn't have the charm that it did."
The 1978 book The Green Spring Valley: Its History and Heritage describes the Dumbarton House's origins:
Noah Walker, the South's largest clothing manufacturer during the Civil War, built a 16- room stone house for his son, Patrick, as a wedding present in 1860.
The family claimed that it was one of the first homes in the country with bathrooms and running hot water. Slaves worked in the basement.
Noah Walker bought 103 acres from the Cockey family in 1859, and by 1872 had expanded his holdings to 479 acres with a large farm. His grandson, Henry Walker, later wrote that 600 cows were in a barn there.
In July 1893, the Walker family sold the Dumbarton farm to the Waters family for $100,000.
The Waters family began to sell bits of the property, for the construction of Park Heights Avenue and the Suburban Club of Baltimore.
Nevertheless, Barbara B. Cushing, a Waters family descendent who lived in the house as a child in the 1920s and '30s, said the grounds were still bucolic then.
It hurt her to see the house become an oddity in its own neighborhood as the land developed in the 1950s into streets of nondescript suburban homes.
"I felt about this the way Scarlett felt about Tara," she said, referring to the beloved girlhood home of Gone With The Wind's heroine.
The house went through a long line of owners before Lee Parsons bought it online in 2000 for $600,000. He had long had his eye on the place: Hubatka, who owned it from 1979 to 1986 and now lives in Finksburg, said Parsons tried several times to rent from her and her late husband.
They turned him away because they didn't want his collection of old cars parked in their driveway.
If Parsons wanted to live in the Dumbarton House, he would have to buy it himself, Hubatka said she told him.
Opportunity arose in 2000, when the Russian immigrants auctioned the house online. Parsons bought it for $600,000.
Because of an outstanding mortgage on another house, he put the deed into the name of his fiancee, Cheryl Aiello, whose father owned Cher-Chris Construction Co. in Cockeysville.
But the couple's relationship soon fell apart. Aiello, who said the house was hers, stationed security guards around the clock at the house, according to court records. Parsons sued and, under a settlement reached in February last year, the deed was transferred to his name.
Aiello did not return phone calls this week.
Parsons continued to renovate the house, including building the eight-car garage, which has black-and-white checkered floors and a mural of the house painted on the wall.
He used it to store a fleet of cars that his former employees said included a limousine, a Dodge Viper - and a gold-colored Rolls-Royce.
Then in June, Parsons disappeared.
Howard County police received a call at 8:02 p.m. June 11 that his body was found on the front seat of his Rolls-Royce at 13312 Royden Court in Ellicott City, a stately brick home in a wooded area. Just like at Dumbarton House, twin stone lions sit outside the front entrance and an iron fence blocks the end of the driveway.
Police ruled the death a suicide, and Health Department officials said the official cause was carbon monoxide poisoning. Parson's father insists that his son was murdered, but would not reveal details about what he thought had happened.
To pay off Parson's debts, family members gave the Dumbarton House back to the lender. They are also selling the Rolls-Royce for $35,000.
At the open house Wednesday, dozens of people - some from the neighborhood, others who had lived there - walked through the storied place.
But will any of them want to buy it?
"It's a dynamite home," said Shavitz, Hubatka's former tenant. "I hope someday someone can restore it to its original."
Sun staff writers Alyson R. Klein and Laura Barnhardt contributed to this article.