1824 'shack' matures

The Baltimore Sun

In southern Anne Arundel County, Route 2 meanders toward Solomons Island, winding through miles of farmland and a smattering of houses.

In 1967, Georgina and Richard Fries were looking for an alternative to the Baltimore-Washington suburbs after a job transfer brought the family south from New Jersey.

"We bought a shack and 2 acres for $29,000," said Richard Fries.

"I wanted horses for the kids, and chickens, goats and turkeys," his wife said. And while the circa 1824 country farmhouse needed work, it wasn't exactly a "shack," she added.

The rear of the two-story frame structure is the home's oldest part. At one time, it was used as a school, then the medical office of a local physician, a Dr. West.

"People still refer to our place as Dr. West's old house," Georgina Fries said.

A first-floor wing was added to the house in 1940 and the Frieses built a bedroom atop that wing in 1970. The house, with three small outbuildings, has undergone extensive renovation over the years.

The couple estimate they've spent $300,000 on improvements that included installing new siding and windows, central air conditioning and a cedar shake roof, refinishing the house's original random-width flooring, and adding a fifth upstairs bedroom and a downstairs entry room. The latter is their "beach room" because it's filled with memorabilia from the Jersey Shore where Georgina Fries grew up.

The home is full of old farm furniture - fashioned mostly of pine and full of nicks and scratches - that she and her husband have collected since their marriage 47 years ago. What she calls "the soft furniture" - chairs and sofas - are the only pieces that are not over 100 years old.

"We're not a museum," Georgina Fries said, seated at the distressed wooden table in the couple's breakfast nook. "We use all of the furniture and glassware plates [and] pottery here."

A living room, dining room, kitchen, breakfast nook and the entry room constitute the first level. Also on the first floor are a storage room and the old cookhouse, which has a side entrance and is used as a showroom for the couple's hand-quilting business.

The second floor, accessed by a magnificent restored oak staircase, contains the bedrooms, one of which has been converted into a quilting workroom and storage area for fabric and other supplies.

The Frieses raised four girls and one son in the home they call Bellwether. All four of their daughters' weddings took place under white canopies on the home's side lawn.

Today, grandchildren are visiting. Two dogs, a brown mastiff named Gwen, and a black Lab called Scout, keep the couple company as they relax comfortably on a side, screened-in porch filled with wicker furniture.

The Frieses' furniture and accessories reflect a simpler time of home-made textiles and cottage finery. Needlepoint rugs lie atop the pine flooring, and framed samplers and crewel work (many done by Georgina Fries, others acquired as gifts or purchased from antique shops) are displayed on bead-board walls.

Two built-in shelves that flank the living room fireplace are loaded with Depression-era glassware. Other Depression-era crockery fills cabinets throughout the house.

And of course, there are the quilts, many hanging on walls. Georgina Fries always enjoyed the craft, but it wasn't until her husband, a salesman for Arrow Shirt Co., brought home copious amounts of swatches that she thought seriously of making and selling the colorful quilts.

Now, with her husband retired and the children grown, the quilt-making business employs nearly 100 Amish women all over the country who stitch the squares that are assembled into quilts.

Content with their farmhouse life, the Frieses plan to stay on.

"We'll leave here in a box," Georgina Fries said, laughing.

"No! Jars, remember?" her husband said.

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