A New Definition of Fixer Upper?

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With so many beautiful historic homes being demolished today, last week I received some wonderful news from one of my clients who lives in Rockville, MD.  Jennifer excitedly told me that after overcoming many obstacles, her and her husband, Lee, had just purchased a 137 year old Victorian mansion . . . but, she added, it needed a LOT of work.

That was indeed an understatement!  I found out that Jennifer and Lee had just purchased the Winderbourne, an amazing Queen Anne-style mansion that sits on nine acres and overlooks Little Seneca Lake in Boyds, MD. The home sat empty for many years and the wooden boards, beams and shingles became a canvas for vandals.

Lee Levin stands in front of the 1884 Winderbourne House, his newly acquired renovation project.   Photo credit: Washington Post

Thanks to excellent coverage in the Washington Post, I uncovered much of the story about Winderbourne and have included the links to these stories at the end of my post.

As one can imagine, the inside of Winderbourne is as grim as the outside, with broken floorboards, sagging ceilings, missing plaster, the remains of a small fire, and plenty of graffiti. Lee and Jennifer plan to fully renovate and eventually live in the home. As so aptly stated in the Washington Post, “Where else can you get nine acres on the water in Montgomery County?”

Some history about Winderbourne

Winderbourne was built by Enoch and Mary Totten. Enoch was a Washington lawyer and Civil War veteran and Mary was a heiress who came into money after the death of her father’s cousin, Elias Howe,  who perfected the sewing machine.  In fact, the mansion took its name from one of Elias’s inventions: the bobbin winder. “Winderbourne” must have struck the Tottens as easier on the ear than “Bobbinbourne.”

The Tottens lived in Washington D.C. but desired a peaceful summer home. They decided on a patch of land on Little Seneca Creek, right along the railroad line. The money to build the house came from Mary. Her father was Timothy Howe, a senator from Wisconsin.

The former owner of Winderbourne, Paxton Pickrell, kept the house on the market for many years, determined to find a buyer who would appreciate the old lakefront beauty. He grew up in the house and knew it would take a very special person to buy, restore and live in the home.  He was also very aware of the potential of the property.

In the meantime, as the years went by, the house became increasingly overgrown and dilapidated.

The Winderbourne in 2016. Photo credit: Washington Post

 

Another view of the Winderbourne property

When looking at the derelict home now, it’s hard to believe that Winderbourne was originally painted soft pink, with dark rose trim. The Tottens kept the house staffed year-round, with gardeners tending rare plants that had been imported from around the world. They threw formal parties on the lawn and the guests would spill out onto the huge wrap-around porch. “I can only imagine the events they must have had,” Paxton said in the Washington Post. “It was really something.”

Paxton’s parents, Edward and Beulah Pickrell, bought Winderbourne in 1929. Edward was a policeman with the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. Paxton grew up on the estate, fishing in Seneca Creek, hunting in the woods. He last lived there in 1968, before serving in the military in South Korea. His brother, Edward Jr., inherited Winderbourne and stayed there until his death in 2004.

Haunted House Rumors

But Winderbourne saw its share of tragedy, too. All three of the Tottens’ children caught typhoid fever; contracted, it was believed, from tainted drinking water at Winderbourne. One died.

A Totten daughter, Edith Totten, became a doctor and adopted a daughter of her own. This child was killed after sliding down — and, presumably, flying off — the long bannister at Winderbourne. Edith herself died suddenly at age 48 after delivering a lecture at Johns Hopkins University.

A more “haunted” view of WInderbourne.

In 2011 a real estate website included Winderbourne on a list of “the spookiest, creepiest old houses for sale in America.” Paxton disagrees, stating, “That place to me was just a wonderful home.”

Haunted or not, this beautiful piece of history has just been given a new lease of life. I look forward to creating an original portrait of the restored home and will following its progress with great interest.

And a final round of applause to Lee and Jennifer Levin, for their courage in taking on this daunting project. It gives a whole new meaning to the question made popular by Chip and Joanna Gaines on their hit HGTV show, “Do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?”

I’ll keep you updated.

References:
Washington Post article Apr 18, 2016
Washington Post article Oct 8, 2021