A small shop in Rockville, fittingly housed in a deteriorating building and sponsored by a local historic preservation group, is selling remnants and remembrances of turn-of-the-century houses in Montgomery County.
In keeping with the group's efforts to promote historical accuracy and local pride, the items are sold only for use in houses built in the county before 1940. Those who work in the shop reserve the right to visit and confirm the location and age of a customer's home.
The shop on Stonestreet Avenue, called Old House Parts and open only twice a month, has carved fireplace mantels from Victorian times, wooden staircases, gingerbread porch trim and a cast iron bathtub, all rescued from houses about to be demolished.
Run by Montgomery Preservation Inc., the store was begun with a $10,000 grant from the county in donated space in a former storage building.
"We're totally preservation-based," said store director Kathy Bowers. The store's resources are "not for people to Victorianize a new home," she said.
The idea for the operation came from Montgomery County Council member William E. Hanna, based on his experiences as mayor of Rockville. The city had to tear down a number of old houses for its urban renewal and also used retired craftsmen to train apprentices to work on historic structures.
City officials had trouble finding workers who knew about renovating and repairing old structures, Hanna said. At the same time, he said, he realized that an effort should be made to not completely destroy those houses that had to be demolished.
"Why not make the house parts available to other folks who are having so much difficulty finding them?" he asked. "It just seemed natural that we should have a clearinghouse."
The store's present inventory comes primarily from four large homes in Burtonsville, Boyds and Germantown that had either deteriorated past the point of salvage or were standing in the path of highway or building construction, Bowers said.
Tips about houses slated to be torn down are scouted out by the historic preservation group, which asks the owners for permission to remove historic and decorative details and trimmings as a donation. In return, the homeowners can take tax deductions.
The toughest part of her job is staying ahead of vandals or other architectural salvagers, Bowers said. Following up on a recent tip about a large, abandoned farmhouse near Olney, for instance, Bowers found that it had been stripped bare.
The store's dusty inventory also includes a glass-paneled door with intricate carvings; light fixtures; molding trim for rooms, doors and windows; iron floor grates with cutout designs; and windows, which are usually sold for their old glass, Bowers said. Most of the items are in need of refinishing or paint stripping.
Among the most popular items are pieces of metal hardware for wooden window shutters. "People just jump into the box and start pawing, they're so excited," Bowers said.
She said business at the store has been good since it opened in July. There were about 50 visitors on a recent Saturday.
Bowers said she sees a growing interest overall in house restoration and historical preservation, which she attributes largely to the county's increasing and encroaching development. This is especially so in Montgomery's largely rural western and northern sections, where most of the untouched older houses can still be found, she said.
Bowers said most of her customers live in Kensington, Chevy Chase and Takoma Park, three areas of the county with many restored older houses.
Old House Parts' prices are lower than the handful of commercial architectural salvage stores in the Washington area, she said. A six-foot-tall wooden shutter at her store costs $12, compared with about $18 at the other stores, she said.
The store's profits are used to pay the salvage crew, salvage expenses, house-searching expenses and for publicity.
"We're not a money-making operation," Bowers said. "We are totally preservation-based. The basic idea is to salvage items and recycle them to a house being restored."
The store, located behind the Lincoln School Center at 595 Stonestreet Ave., is open on the first and third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.