If These Walls Could Talk
Mar 13, 2013 09:29PM
● By Anonymous
Paschal’s Chance, as 104 Quail Run Drive is known, has seen different owners, alterations and, in the late 20th century, a line of waterfront homes rise where its acres once extended to the Corsica River. Its handmade bricks and heating system require upkeep that many new homes do not.
Yet the parcel dates to the area’s original European settlement and its timeline echoes the state’s larger backstory. Some of its occupants’ lives are less than well-documented, its doorways are small and more maintenance may be involved, but for those with an appreciation of history, the labor is rewarded. Walking the wooden floors and wandering the environs, a curious imagination conjures what isn’t documented, elaborating on a palpable past that, no matter how many builder extras are included, new homes will never possess.
Curiosity is what led longtime Paschal’s Chance owner Judy Geggis to return to the dirt road just across the Watson Road bridge from Centreville, even though she’d not been able to find the historic home that a friend had mentioned. She wouldn’t see it until after the growing season.
“They cut the corn down and (all of a sudden) there was this house.” says Geggis.
Sheltered by silver maple and other ancient trees stood the two-and-a-half-story, Federal-style home. It was white brick except for relatively recent additions to each wing, with a pitched roof, large, welcoming porch, and three chimneys. Fortunately for Paschal’s Chance, which needed loving care after previous ownership, Geggis fell in love at first sight.
The land grant for the property dates to Colonial times. With competing claims put forth by other imperial powers, the English crown was eager to use settlement to solidify its interest on America’s East Coast. Local Protestants had launched challenges against Maryland’s ruling Calvert family, who were Catholic. In 1666, in exchange for his transportation of goods and people from England to help settle the area, George Paschal was granted the land on the northeastern banks of the Corsica, a tributary of the Chester River that made the area navigable by his ships. Cultivating at least part of the property and building a dwelling were part of the bargain in such cases.
Although the current house doesn’t date to the 17th century, water was still the mode of transport between 1820 and 1835, when then-owner Joseph Watson built its main sections. The one-room deep, central-passage home was constructed of handmade bricks, which were painted at the time and remain so today. Original moldings, chair rails, and mantelpieces also endure in good condition.
The core of the house was barely complete when work began on a large addition. It kept the depth of the house but expanded the length from three bays to five, rising two stories and adding two additional fireplaces to make four altogether at the time, all of which are still functioning. Brick construction was consistent with the original structure, as were doorframes and other early Greek revival woodwork that was popular in the period. The house stood in this incarnation until the mid-20th century, when additional wings to the north and south were added.
Several historical aspects of the house aren’t obvious. Orlando Ridout of the Maryland Historical Trust noted in 1981 that the house frequently was mistaken for a Colonial rather than a Victorian structure, in part because at some point, dormers on the third floor were removed.
Those visiting by automobile unknowingly approach the house from the rear as they turn down the lane off Quail Run Drive. The real entrance, though, is on the other side, where a sweep of grand, circular, pebbled drive evokes the Colonial era. Guests would have arrived on horse- back along a lane that passed through what is now a cornfield. A horse hitch is some distance from the front door but hidden by landscaping, while a carriage stone to assist arrivals disembarking from buggies sits opposite the front door.
A smokehouse serves as a tool shed and a historic outhouse now holds apiary equipment.
Geggis, who with her husband bought the house and the five surrounding acres in 1982, has gathered what information she can about the property and its history, sometimes by mere chance. One day, an unfamiliar woman in a red convertible knocked on the door, determined to see the house where she said she had been raised. “She remembered all the details of the house,” says Geggis, who offered the stranger a tour. “She even remembered the two-room dog apartment.”
Clearly, Paschal’s Chance was the home for a privileged class for much of its history. William McAdoo, whose father served as Woodrow Wilson’s treasury secretary, lived there until 1956, when it was sold to William Hardy. Two sets of back stairs indicate that at least one was used by servants. Judy Geggis also found a bell mechanism beneath a board in the dining room used to summon servants without letting on to dinner guests that one was doing so. One wonders, too, Geggis says, whether slaves were kept at some point in the sprawling basement.
The property was still a 240-acre farm in the late 1970s when a developer received the subdivision permission that cleared the way for building waterfront houses in the acreage directly on the river. Geggis and her husband bought the manor house and land immediately surrounding it, ensuring that it remained a place apart.
After taking the plunge (at a staggering 13 percent interest rate), Geggis and her husband waited six months before they lived in the house, which had been rented for a number of years.
“Nobody maintained it,” says Geggis. “We had to put a lot of money into it before we ever moved in.”
There was the oddly applied wallpaper that took ages to remove, a redo of the HVAC system, curious closets in the master bath, stairs and more stairs, she says.
Many homebuyers today aren’t the “special breed of cat” needed for such a house, says Geggis. “Now they want granite (kitchen counters), stainless steel (fixtures) and an open floor plan.”
The super-thick walls of the house make renovations in the latter direction unthinkable. And none of the former seems crucial compared with the myriad of historic details hard to imagine in a new home—built-in cabinets made with vintage wood from the 1830s, a walnut rail, tapered balusters on the main stairs, and original wood floors.
Over the years, the Geggises built a sunny addition to the kitchen and constructed a goldfish pond and waterfall just outside. Mostly, though, they’ve been good caretakers of Paschal’s Chance’s quirky but very historic character.
Paschal’s Chance has lost much of its original land to subdivision and other homeowners who loved its waterfront location. But on the porch in the house’s “rear,” beneath the branches of the maples and locusts, even the nearest houses seem sort of distant. Standing on the “front” side, the circular driveway and lane that once led out through the cornfield make it easy to imagine the Colonial era, when the original land grant was made. Quirks and extra upkeep or not, there’s a grandness to this home that only history can create.