"I wouldn't have the patience to do this to my own house," said Carole Kadie who was scraping several layers of paint from a wooden bannister in the old Chiswell House on Cattail Road in Poolesville.
"It's fun to peel the centuries away and see what's underneath," she said as her labors disclosed a light, soft wood - "maybe pine, maybe poplar" - beneath the layers of white and dark grey paint.
Kadie is one of about 20 volunteers from a non-profit organization, Historic Medley District, which is interested in historic perservation. The name, Medley District, comes from the old name for the Poolesville area voting district. The volunteer workers, including several children and grandparents, spent several Saturdays this spring scraping paint from fireplace mantles, bannisters and door jams and pulling down plaster walls that covered log construction or brick nogging.
Edward Stock, a member of the group who is a nurseyman, was assessing the trees and deciding which should come down and what would be historically accurate to plant.
Sid Wells was cleaning wooden shutters with a wire brush. The shutters had been found in perfect condition, stored in the attic.
I have old things," he said. "It makes me happy to be part of saving this house for future generations who are growing up in a plastic world and don't know the beauty of hand-rubbed wood and forged iron.
"This is better than golf, anyday," Wells said, as he brushed sawdust and grime from his forehead.
Few people find satisfaction in covering themselves from head to toe in dust from old plaster and wood, but the Chiswell House volunteers were clearly enthusiastic. For nearly four years, Historic Medley District members had been moving step by slow step through the process of acquiring the historic house, registering it with the National Register of Historic Places and finally turning it into a livable historic house.
The restoration work the members were umdertaking was the last step in the cycle. Once they and the contractors hired to do the heavy work are finished, the house will be sold and used as a private residence.
"We are all willing to work so hard on this house because we want to prove to people that an old house can be restored and modernized and made livable and that when you do that, you end up with a better house. Even though it takes time and trouble and money, it's worht it because you end up with a unique dwelling," said Mary Ann Kephart, president of Historic Medley District.
Frederica (Freddie) Bunge, who was [WORD ILLEGIBLE] plaster off the old kitchen wall, said Chiswell House was the biggest project Historic Medly District has undertaken and that, "considering our membership is less than 50 people, it's a big project. Period."
When the volunters took a lunch break to enjoy the homemade sandwiches, cookies and coffee other volunteers had brought, Kephart explained the history of the project and the house.
A group of real estate speclators owned the house and several hundred surrounding acres. The house was leased to a tenant, but in 1974, the Montgmery County Department of Environmental Protection inspected the house and declared it unfit for human babitation. Not only was no indoor plumbing or running water.
"The owners were going to tear it down, but then they called us and said they thought it might be of historical interest and would we like to turn it into a museum or something," Kephart said, "I told them to give me time to research it."
The house was two houses in one a small white frame house with a log kitchen, three bedrooms, dining and living areas and a brick addition that has a large master bedroom, small bedroom, large drawing room and foyer.Kephart found out that a George Frazier Magruder bought the log and frame house in 1778. When he died, his estate sold the house. Col. Thomas Fletchall bought it in 1804 and willed it to his daughter who married William Chiswell. "We assume it was this young couple who built the brick addition in the 1820s," Kephart said.
The Chiswell's son, George, joined the Confederate army in Virginia during the Civil War and led Jeb Stuarttype raids on Poolesville where Union troops were stationed. "Poolesville was deeply divided during the war. It was brother against brother. But when Chiswell was wounded in a campagin in the South, he convalesced at home and was concealed," Kephart said.
Two of his unmarried daughters lives in the house into the 1920s. When they moved out, the house was let to tenants.
After Kephart completed her research, Historic Medley District decided to save the house, not as a museum but as a livable house. The owner gave them the house and surrounding out buildings as a gift. The membership raised $20,000 to buy almost seven acres of land surrounding the house. They then borrowed $54,000 from the Maryland Historic Trust's revolving loan fund, which was used to pay the contractors who arae doing the heavy remodeling work, including putting in two and a half bathrooms, insulation and electricity.
Historic Medley District volunteers are doing "the tedious things, the things that would cost you a fortune if you had to pay someone to do them. We're not as good as the contractors, but we're cheaper," Kephart said.
Kephart, architect Lawrence Stevens and other Historic Medley members planned a restoration that would be true to the original house as well as comfortable for a modern family. Their plans were approved by the Maryland Historic Trust. The entire upstairs is being rebuilt because the log and brick houses were not attached upstairs. Otherwise, they changed as little as possible.
"We hated to pull down some of the old plaster walls - they were beautiful - but they were cracking and we needed to insulate. There was a very slanted door jam that the contractor was embarrassed about - he wanted to straighten it, but we said, 'Oh no, no, no. Let's not change anything we don't have to'," Kephart said.
The timetable calls for the house to be finished in July and sold. The new owners will have to abide by easements of the Maryland Historic Trust. That means they can change anything they want to inside, but can only after the outside if their plans are approved by the trust.
Neither the new owners nor the Trust will have control over development of the surrounding land. However, Kephart said there was five-acre rural zoning on the land. Although tract townhouses line Cattail Road about a mile away from the Chiswell House, there is little likelihood that that kind of development would border the house.
With the money it earns from the sale of the house, Historic Medley District will repay the loans from members and the trust and use the profits to restore and modernize other historic buildings in the area, Kephart said.