By Ryan Cornell
WINCHESTER -- When work wraps up on the Glen Burnie Manor House this spring, it might appear like nothing has changed.
But a quick peek behind the walls and closet doors prove this is far from true.
Wood paneling on the walls hides new pipes and valves. A former hat closet fits a water heater. A closet that once served as the house's wet bar can now lift handicapped visitors up and down a floor. A painting covers a TV when not in use.
Chuck Swartz, principal architect of Reader & Swartz Architects, describes the results of the restoration project as invisible.
"The thing about this project is if you do it right, you won't be able to tell," he said.
Because of this stealthy engineering and the historic building's lack of large crawlspaces or ducts, intern architect Joel Richardson said there's virtually no room for error.
"If you open it up, it'll look like the inside of your iPhone," he said. "Everything jammed together."
The 6,000-square-foot Glen Burnie house sits on land once surveyed and settled by Winchester founder James Wood. It now belongs to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Wood's son Robert built the oldest portions of the house in 1793 and 1794. Descendant and artist Julian Wood Glass Jr. owned the house with his partner, R. Lee Taylor, from the 1950s until his death in 1992. The house opened to the public on a seasonal basis in 1997.
Swartz said architects met and consulted with museum staff and local architectural historians before designing the plans for the project.
Construction work is being done by local contractor Howard Shockey & Sons, which did the building's last restoration in 1959.
The building might have been state of the art back then, but its lack of heating, air conditioning or gutters as well as a sloping garden led to constant headaches when it came to hot summers and flooding basements.
Museum Executive Director Dana Hand Evans said the updates bring modern technology into the house while keeping its historic integrity. She said the Glen Burnie house, used only for guided tours before, will host special events such as lectures, concerts and dinners.
"Having people walk through and point things out doesn't engage people," she said. "We wanted it to be interactive and have extended it into the community."
Visitors will be able to sit in a 1870s chair and listen to music played from a restored 1850s piano, she said.
"Before it was just used for tours, they just told you how they [the Wood family] lived," Hand said. "Now you'll be able to experience how they lived yourself."
The house was closed in November 2011 as museum staff took hundreds of trips from the attic and rooms, taking months to remove and document thousands of objects belonging to Glass.
The house will reopen on June 10, though work on the surrounding gardens will continue for another year. A black tie event and garden party at the house is scheduled for early June.
The restoration project is part of the $4.2-million initial phase of the museum's four-phase Master Plan.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org