Hot House: Vesper Hill, 7315 W. Bellona Avenue, Woodbrook, MD 21212
Architecturally significant rural English style house, a “cottage villa,” circa 1853, with later additions. Board-and-batten wood siding on fieldstone foundation, cedar shake roof, after a design by Andrew Jackson Downing. Excellent condition. Six bedrooms, 4 full, 3 half baths, 6,500 square feet over two stories, unfinished basement, attic. Thirty foot plus living room with two fireplaces, dining room with fireplace, gourmet eat-in kitchen with butler’s pantry. Ten fireplaces in total. Main south-facing façade, wrap around porch with Chinese Chippendale fencing. Springhouse and bank barn/garage on 3.86 landscaped acres: $2,750,000*
What: Vesper Hill is a rare original example of the picturesque aesthetic in American architecture. Designed from plans by Andrew Jackson Downing, “father of American parks” and America’s foremost pre-Civil War architect, Vesper Hill demonstrates many of Downing’s deeply held architectural principles. He advocated for “a house with feeling,” a reaction to the rage for neoclassical Greek and Italianate architecture which dominated America and Europe at the time, with its emphasis on formality, proportion and order. The picturesque advocated instead for “a pleasing variety” in texture, asymmetry and a oneness with nature. Once a hotly debated topic in art circles in England and Europe, the picturesque’s place in the Romantic Movement, rising to prominence in the early 18th century, was ultimately agreed to be at a point “somewhere between the sublime and the beautiful.”
The original owners of Vesper Hill are unknown admirers of the picturesque, but for many years the house was the summer retreat of Mrs. Abell, of the Baltimore Sun family, who lived in a mansion on Mt. Vernon place during the year. The house and its original 40-acre parcel was later occupied by Brad Jacobs, an editor of the Baltimore Sun, and in 1976, it was purchased by Janet and Eddie Dunn (full disclosure, our editor and publisher’s in-laws), who lived there until 2005. The Dunns sold it to the Scheffnacker family, who renovated extensively. Pages of historic detail on the home’s design and construction can be found here.
In addition to its remarkable setting, the great charm of the house is its asymmetric floor plan and myriad long windows, virtually all of which have a view over the lovely land. The living room is one of those rooms you remember for a lifetime, both grand and welcoming with its dual fireplaces and french doors. All bedrooms are upstairs, not all are large, but fit snugly under the gables and eves. The master, though, is large and bright with walk-in closets and en suite bath. While the true front of the house faces south, over the lawn and trees, the everyday entrance is a pretty path around the side, which is equally if not more, picturesque.
Where: Feels like the lone house on a high ridge of the Shenendoah Valley. At the top of a wooded hill, overlooking a grand lawn and completely private, it is nevertheless a scant 2 minutes from Charles Street and Graul’s at Ruxton Crossing, and maybe 10 minutes to I-83 and downtown Baltimore. Accessed by a discreet private drive off Bellona Avenue, located on the right hand side as you drive west on Bellona from Charles Street.
Why: This is a house you fall in love with, truly, madly, deeply.
Why Not: The house rambles a bit, in a picturesque sort of way. Not low maintenance.
Would Suit: Architectural connoisseur. Romantics.
NB. *A separate deeded land parcel of 4+ acres is also available, price on request.
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