Grand Country House of Shredded Wheat Inventor, American Dreamer, For Sale In Sparks

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Hot House:  ‘Oread’ – 1623 Glencoe Road, Sparks, MD 21152

Classic stucco manor house, circa 1904, well and substantially renovated. 5 bedrooms, 5.5 baths over 4 stories, with 8 fireplaces, dramatic staircase, 40×15’ gourmet kitchen, wine cellar, central A/C. Also, swimming pool, tennis court, 5-car detached garage, on private 19+ acres: $1,598,700

 What: Estate once owned by Henry Perky, a late 19th century entrepreneur of the Gilded Age – railroad builder, lawyer, utopian educator and salesman extraordinaire – whose single great success was the invention of Shredded Wheat. Perky made and lost several fortunes over his lifetime, all the while suffering from severe diarrhea, which he treated with a diet of vegetables and boiled wheat. It was his distaste for the prescribed boiled wheat that led him to invent, with a friend, a machine that would make possible his “little whole wheat mattresses.” His plan was to sell the machine, not the cereal, but the cereal was an instant hit. Introduced in 1904, just before John Harvey Kellogg introduced his Corn Flakes — it was Henry Perky, rather than Kellogg, or Perky’s arch-rival C.W. Post, who would go down in legend as “the father of cookless breakfast food.”

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His life makes a curious and fascinating study, and Baltimorean Jim Holecheck has written the full story in a book called A Success of Failures: The Life of Henry D. Perky. Perky moved to Sparks in 1904. He bought a great deal of land, including a dairy, the old Filston Farm, where he planned to found a vocational school called Oread (in Greek mythology, a nymph of woods and mountains), to implement his utopian ideals. But days before the school was to open, death intervened as he stepped into an ice cold bath after sipping a brandy, at noon on June 29, 1906. In his will,  Perky left nothing to his only child, Scott Henry, not wishing him to become “a drunk and a tramp,” (as can happen). In fact, his estate was mired in debt, and the house and much of the land was sold. During World War II the house was used as a training facility for spies.

All this aside, it’s a lovely manor style house, nicely maintained, that sits high on its 19+ acres, with views over the countryside. Rooms are well and generously proportioned, completely updated and ready to be lived in — hopefully with at least some of the verve that Mr. Perky brought to the endeavor.

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Where: The picturesque turn onto Glencoe Road takes you over an iron footbridge, across the Gunpowder River, the NCR trail, and up the hill. The Oread (formerly known as Filston Manor) is a mile or so from the bridge, past Oldfield’s School and the Emmanuel Episcopal Church (where Perky is buried).  Be prepared to drive a fair amount if you decide to live here, because although you are only five miles from the Hunt Valley Mall, it is not a direct route. The good news for families is that children here can attend the trifecta of Baltimore area public schools – Sparks Elementary, Hereford Middle and Hereford High — all top notch, or head down the hill to Oldfield’s.

Why: Chance of meeting ghost of Henry Perky on the back stairs…or bathtub.

Why Not: See above.

Would Suit: Perky historians.

NB: The 19+ acres of land are protected (at last check) by a conservation easement with the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, so hopefully, your rural paradise will stay that way.

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