Anticipation was running high.
“So, we have come to the moment we’ve been waiting for,” Ned Fowler, past president of the Laurel Historical Society, told a crowd of about 50 people gathered on the lawn of the Hitchens Homestead on Willow Street. It was the occasion of the Great Reveal, when Fowler was to announce what research by historic preservation consultant Catherine Adams Masek, Severna Park, Md., had uncovered about the original colors of the 1878 house on the property.
But before that moment, Fowler had some words of caution for the crowd.
“Some may not like these colors,” he said. Appreciating them will require an ‘attitudinal adjustment’,” he added, a realization that “this house was built in a different time, not in a world when every building was painted white with black or dark green shutters.”
And then, finally, Fowler called on volunteers with the historical society to carry among members of the audience swatches of four Benjamin Moore paint shades, the closest matches to the colors that Masek, using a process called chromochronology, had uncovered. Brad Spicer showed off Rustic Taupe, the color that the vertical boards of the board-and-batten siding were painted. Norma Jean Fowler carried through the audience a sample of a darker brown, the color that the battens were painted.
Shutters were Jungle Green, displayed on a sample carried around by Doug Marvil. And finally, Woody Disharoon was in charge of a sample of Mahogany, a deep reddish-brown, with which window and door trim, as well as gingerbread, were painted.
As an added treat for the crowd, historical society president George Denney led them to a side porch on the house, where Spicer, Ned Fowler and Danny LeCates had painted a window and surrounding siding in the newly discovered colors.
“When it’s finished, this house is going to shine like a jewel,” Spicer said.
In her presentation, Masek said that she wasn’t surprised to find that the house, built in the Carpenter Gothic style, had been painted such rich colors. “White and black were not being used then,” she said. “It was near the end of the Industrial Revolution and people wanted to emphasize nature, to go back to a simpler time. So you see shades of green and brown, a kind of backlash against industrialization.”
The historical society purchased the 4.33-acre Hitchens Homestead in the summer of 2018. The property is home to two structures, a small house, the older wing of which Fowler believes was built in the early 19th century, and the cottage, constructed by Emanuel Twilley, who owned the grist mill just down the hill on Broad Creek. Except for the fact that the cottage has been covered with white aluminum siding, the structures remain pretty much as they were when they were built.
Edmund Hitchens bought the 3.75-acre parcel on which the cottage sits in 1927 and the parcel on which the smaller house sits in 1937. It was from Hitchens’ great-great grandson, Christopher Walls, that the historical society purchased the property.
“It has taken us a year to clean up and clean out,” Ned Fowler told the crowd. The society has taken into its collection nearly 100 items that belonged to the Hitchens family, he added. Other items were sold at a tag sale in November.
Fowler said that the society hopes to turn the property and its buildings into a community gathering spot, where art shows, festivals, public gatherings of all kinds and even private parties are held. The first of those public gatherings will be Friday, Dec. 6, when the homestead will host a community party, at the conclusion of the town’s Christmas parade. Featured will be a “grand illumination,” Fowler said, at which time holiday lights in the house will be turned on.
The society also plans to restore the cottage to use as a museum and exhibition area “to tell Laurel’s story,” Fowler said. The restoration will include painting the house in its original colors.
When that happens, “this cottage will look absolutely gorgeous,” Masek said. “It will once again be exactly what it is supposed to be.”
To help out Members of the Laurel Historical Society meet every Wednesday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the Hitchens Homestead, 205 Willow St., to work on cleaning up the property. Volunteers are welcome.
For details, call Ned Fowler, 302-875-2820.