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A Treasure Preserved

Oct 03, 2014 10:26AM ● By Cate Reynolds
by Mark R. Smith

Valerie Frances refers to her husband, Chad Attwood, as a “scrounge.” It’s an endearment she uses with affection and approval.

Little did she know, however, what he was going to scrounge up about four years ago—would you believe a house? A historic house; specifically, the Jones house, which had been at rest for more than a century at 1401 Annapolis Road (Route 175) in Odenton.

Attwood apparently brings home all sorts of things, which has led to the rebuilding of some cars and various renovations to homes. “He’d been spying that house for about 10 years, after the last owners moved out. It was very well-built and actually was in pretty good shape,” says Frances, noting that whole trees were used as the joists to support the floor (a contrast to the current method of employing planking and crossbeams). 

As it happened, Millersville-based Reliable Contracting bought the property about a decade ago, at which time the Odenton Heritage Society persuaded Anne Arundel County to declare the house, originally built in 1874 (with the front added in 1901, which was common for homes of that era), a historic resource; it was the home of Leonard Jones, the station master for the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad in the early part of the 20th century, then multiple generations of railroad workers in his family.

Oddly enough, Attwood was initially searching for parts, but the home’s locally historic designation put the kibosh on that idea; “However, while you can’t knock it down, you can move it,” he says, noting that historic resources (as opposed to historic sites) can be relocated in the county, while the same cannot be said for properties under similar state and federal designations.

Moving the house, which made way for additional parking adjacent to the newly completed Village at Odenton Station, became an option when Reliable gave the couple the house. “Then we bought the one plot in that neighborhood that was available [which included a single-family home that was built in 1980] after putting the contract in two years earlier.”

Reliable also paid for the move, which cost about $35,000 and included no-kill tree spading services.
Those circumstances are basically what brought the Severn couple to that recent spring-like day, when what began as Attwood’s simple curiosity became reality. With the assistance of Sharptownbased Expert House Movers of Maryland, the Jones house was hoisted from its historic earth with steel I-beams, then placed on dollies; thus began creeping along its quarter-mile journey from the corner of Annapolis Road and Towne Center Boulevard, past the Village at Odenton Station, to the new boulevard opposite intersection at Odenton Road.

Today, the house rests between the Odenton MARC Station and Jim’s Hideaway, slightly separated by a short dirt road from the Epiphany Episcopal Church. While the renovation (which will restore the home to its original specs) is in the works, just what the property will become in the future is being contemplated.

What Frances is sure about, she says, is that her family of three won’t live there. “We’ll rent it as a home for now and possibly use it for a business purpose later, perhaps a restaurant,” she suggests, as development of Odenton Town Center continues.

If the purchase of a home seems more complicated than ever these days, just imagine trying to move a century-old structure. “No bank would fund this. It was $300,000 for the 1980 house and the land,” Attwood says, noting an overall price tag of about $650,000. “We had to borrow money from venture capitalists to make it happen.”

What the couple made happen means that the house is still nestled within its proper context—in a historic rail town that’s in the midst of melding its rich history with the waves of the future. “It’s been an extraordinary experience. It’s something I could have never conceived of,” Frances says. “Sometimes, things just occur.”