Randy and Rose Fletcher were already married when they bought Hitching Post Hill, an historic estate in the University Hills neighborhood of Hyattsville. What they didn’t know was that owning a historic house is like getting married again — there are good days, bad days, and a lot of in-between days, and to keep it all going you need equal doses of patience and love.
And just like a marriage, you can’t go it alone. You need people to lean on, who have the knowledge and expertise to help you get through the rough times.
The Fletchers learned this the hard way during the earthquake in Aug. 2011, when they came home to find shattered plaster, broken bricks and a house in ruins. Repairing their historic home was an enormous task, one that tested their resources and their resolve.
That’s when they discovered the Historic Preservation Grant Fund, administered by the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). The commission provides grant money and expert resources, among other incentives, to help with historic preservation efforts.
Now the couple is seeking additional funding and in October, the Hyattsville City Council voted to write a letter of support for the Fletcher’s latest grant application.
Hitching Post Hill is an important piece of local history, built ca. 1840 in the Greek Revival style with elements of Italianate design. It was later owned by General Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a colorful figure from a distinguished Maryland family. Beale was an explorer, diplomat, general, naval officer, surveyor, and humanitarian who pioneered Western settlement and championed American Indian rights in Washington D.C. During Beale’s tenure, the house hosted President U.S. Grant and his Arabian stallions, President Grover Cleveland, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s entire Wild West troupe.
The house was improved over the years by successive owners, but also saw hard use. Admiral Chauncey Thomas added solid brass plumbing in the 1890s, and master plasterer John Giannetti made the ceilings into works of art in the 1980’s. Later on, the house suffered significant wear and damage when it was converted the building into a boarding house for University of Maryland students.
Randy Fletcher was head-over-heels in love when he found Hitching Post Hill. He grew up in Connecticut, surrounded by historic buildings and badly wanted to own a home with patina and charm. Rose Fletcher was a bit more skeptical, mostly because her family is Italian and know all about living in really old homes — some of her relatives live in a house built in the 15th Century.
They knew that restoring an historic home would be a project, but they didn’t plan for an earthquake, or the rotted porch, which collapsed during a cocktail party with 20 guests on it, or any number of other issues.
They discovered that Giannetti, who was past president of the Prince George’s County Historical Society,had donated a historic preservation easement on the house, which protects the exterior from major alteration and requires architectural review for most construction projects.
An easement is a terrific legal tool to rein in unscrupulous owners, but also makes doing the right thing a little harder. Replacing the rotted porch wasn’t simply a matter of a trip to the hardware store. The Fletchers had to source tongue-and-groove heart pine decking to match the existing wood and replace damaged columns with exact replicas.
It was costly, but Giannetti steered them toward the Historic Preservation Grant Fund and M-NCPPC’s staff of architectural historians for help. Then, when the earthquake hit, the Fletchers had no choice but to turn again to the local preservation network to guide them through the difficult and expensive restoration process. They’re applying again this year to help finish the porch repairs and work on brick spalling in the basement walls.
The Fletchers are confident that they’re doing something important to keep local history alive. As with any marriage, it’s their love for the house — along with some community support and practical resources — that keeps them going through the tough times.