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(Enlarge) One of the houses on this year’s Sykesville Gate House Museum holiday house tour is the McCall family’s Colonial Revival house, originally built in the early 1830s. Pictured is an exterior with Fergus the dog on the front steps and Milo the cat in the bushes. On the front page is a photo of the kitchen with steps to upstairs. (Staff photo by Nate Pesce)

Sykesville tour shows off an epic restoration

Members of the McCall family could easily stand in for Indiana Jones after their adventure-filled restoration of an 1838 farm house on Gaither Road.

When Maureen and Kevin McCall started work on their home, they found snakes, and not just a few.

There were enough black snakes where the couple and their friends hauled out the slithering creatures by the bucket full and dumped them into the Patapsco River.

"We had no mice, but we had snakes," Maureen McCall quipped.

The McCalls home will be one of eight buildings -- three public and five private -- that will welcome visitors during the Gate House Museum of History Holiday House Tour, 12:30 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7.

Tickets for the self-guided tour cost $20 per person (free for snakes) and can be purchased at the Gate House, 7283 Cooper Drive or the Town House, 7547 Main St. Proceeds benefit the Gate House Museum.

"It's really neat and an interesting afternoon to go around and get a glimpse of places you don't usually get to see inside," said Kari Greenwalt, museum director.

It's a great way for people to get ideas for how to decorate their homes or to learn about the history of the area, too, Greenwalt said.

Or in the McCalls case, learn about a trilogy of work.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

When the McCalls moved back to the United States from Saudi Arabia, they wanted a place to settle down and for their children to attend high school and college.

Maureen, an interior designer and former Historic District Commission member, wanted an older home -- or to her, a diamond in the rough -- to transform into a gem full of luster.

"I knew under all that ugly, green carpet, all that hideous wall paper that was all over the place, that the house had good bones," she said.

The colonial farm house once owned by the Phiffer family exchanged hands and sat empty for about three years, she said.

The buying process itself was epic, she said. It took a year to get a response from the seller and eventually led to a sealed bid process to get the house. Then the family had to prove to the bank they could fix the home to be suitable as a primary residence.

"They were like, 'You can't live in this house, it's condemned,' " she said.

After about a year of going through the buying process, the McCalls signed the contact on Aug. 10, 2007. The next day the family had Dumpsters on site ready to get rid of any surprise they were about to uncover.

Temple of Doom

Though the McCalls knew what they wanted the house to be, they had plenty of obstacles.

There were the usual chores -- stripping layers of wallpaper and linoleum, figuring out what to do with several types and colors of brick. Then they also had to deal with asbestos, concrete poured over floor beams and joists (which caused some to break), rotted wood, a water pump from 1838 and even a mummified cat.

"We think it was a cat," Maureen recalled as she looked through photos of the restoration process.

Underneath all the asbestos were wooden clap boards that the McCalls painted dark red.

The additions to the house ranged from the necessary such as closets (there were none) and electrical outlets, to the whimsical such as restoring the former second-floor door to the balcony and an addition to make space for an extra bathroom.

Maureen knew that she wanted to have a homey feel to the residence while restoring the home in a Colonial Revival theme.

But she credits her contractor for the attention to detail and dedication to not cut corners.

That contractor? Sykesville Mayor Jonathan Herman.

"The real story is Jon Herman and his crew," she said. "Anyone else would have torn the house down."

In addition to thanking Herman Restoration and its sub contractors, Maureen also thanks her friends for sticking through the job.

"There wasn't anything on the job that the crew hadn't seen or wasn't able to conquer," she said. "Every other builder wouldn't have touched it."

The Last Crusade

The McCalls are trying to get ready for the tour, as they've only lived in the house for six months, but there are still battles ahead.

"There are so many things to be done to the house," she said.

One project is working to get all three chimneys functioning. One is in use downstairs, but the rest of the stone needs to be set.

The fireplace also features another find of Maureen's -- a Baltimore-made mantel that was rescued from a house being torn down in Columbia.

Underneath the stove, stones from the land are used as a base.

Then there's the outdoors.

The tract of about six acres includes an old spring house as well as an half-acre pond the family plans to dredge and restore. But that's for next year, she said.

The home features items the family purchased from around the world -- owing to Kevin tours of duty in the military.

In the bathroom is a stained glass window purchased in Europe, in its original frame and fully functioning as a window. In the kitchen is a 1700s Tudor-style table from England and a 1930 restaurant hot rack.

All that's missing, it seems, are the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail.

"My oldest daughter says this is the first place we lived where the house did our stuff justice," Maureen says proudly.

If you go

Holiday House Tour

12:30 to 6 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 7

Cost $20

Tickets available at Gate House Museum, 7283 Cooper Drive or the Town House, 7547 Main St. Price includes guide book.

Museum will also be open from 1 to 6 p.m.

For more information, call 410-549-5150.

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