His­toric Mount Ver­non town­home listed

Af­ter 20 years of work, owner hopes some­one will fin­ish restora­tion

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - By Hallie Miller

In 1999, Myrna and Keith Kon­a­jeski jumped at the chance to buy — and re­store — a stately Mount Ver­non town­home on Cathe­dral Street that had been re­con­fig­ured into a multi-room board­ing house.

Mov­ing to Bal­ti­more from Cleve­land, where they pre­vi­ously took on restora­tion projects in that city’s his­toric district, the Kon­a­jeskis de­lighted in the idea of be­com­ing one of a hand­ful of own­ers since the 19th-cen­tury Mount Ver­non home was built.

To­gether, they un­earthed the prop­erty’s deep roots, ones that in­ter­sect with pieces of Civil War his­tory, a founder of the Johns Hop­kins School of Medicine and other bits of vin­tage flair that Myrna Kon­a­jeski said she hopes to pass on to the next owner.

“I like to think the walls are telling sto­ries,” she said. “To me, it brings the house alive, oth­er­wise it would be just a house.”

Af­ter her hus­band died last year, Kon­a­jeski, 72, re­al­ized the up­keep and main­te­nance of a house this size would prove too task­ing for one per­son. She had the res­i­dence listed for $499,000 and hopes to find just the right buyer to con­tinue the work that she and Keith did not fin­ish.

“What a vi­sion my hus­band had when we first bought this,” she said. “I feel a real re­spon­si­bil­ity to hand it over to some­body to con­tinue the legacy.”

The cou­ple took care to re­set the Cathe­dral Street abode into its orig­i­nal con­fig­u­ra­tion, up­dat­ing its roof and elim­i­nat­ing much of its dropped ceil­ings, she said.

They also made re­pairs to elec­tri­cal wiring, ren­o­vated the kitchen and added thought­ful decor to the space, added Eva Hig­gins, the Re­al­tor with Berk­shire Hath­away HomeSer­vices Home­sale Re­alty han­dling the list­ing.

“Some­one needs to com­plete the restora­tion,” she said. “It’s an old, beau­ti­ful house that needs a lot of work.”

But Hig­gins and Kon­a­jeski hope that the home’s rich back­ground can sell it­self to a po­ten­tial buyer with an eye for the his­tor­i­cal.

Built in the late 1840s for dry goods mer­chant and real es­tate dealer Ge­orge R. Gaither, the 7,500-square-foot home now con­tains seven bed­rooms dis­persed through­out four lev­els, plus a bevy of pre­served de­tail such as crown mold­ings, plas­ter medal­lions and mar­ble fire­places. Floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows, many of them copied from the orig­i­nal ones in­stalled, add an abun­dance of nat­u­ral light.

“It’s a view that will never be spoiled,” Kon­a­jeski said.

A park­ing area in­cludes spots for up to four cars, ac­cord­ing to the list­ing, a fea­ture that its orig­i­nal owner prob­a­bly did not fore­see as an even­tual sell­ing point.

Gaither, a de­scen­dant of John Gaither — who set­tled in Anne Arun­del County in 1650, ac­cord­ing to The Bal­ti­more Sun’s ar­chives — died in 1875. A rel­a­tive helped set­tle the town of nearby Gaithers­burg.

Be­fore his death, many re­garded Ge­orge Gaither as “one of the lead­ing cap­i­tal­ists of the city” and some­one “to whom Bal­ti­more owed its high char­ac­ter as a great job­bing mar­ket.” He owned some 2,000 acres of land in Howard County, in­clud­ing the grand Oak­land Manor and Oak­land Mill.

His son, Col. Ge­orge R. Gaither, mar­ried the grand­daugh­ter of Gen. Charles Ridgely of Hamp­ton, a former gov­er­nor of Mary­land.

Col. Gaither, ac­cord­ing to his obit­u­ary, formed a cav­alry com­pany near El­li­cott City called the Howard County Dra­goons be­fore the Civil War. He served un­der Gen. J.E.B Stu­art in the First Vir­ginia Cav­alry of the Con­fed­er­ate Army, and in 1862, was taken pris­oner in the Bat­tle of Manas­sas and was held for two weeks be­fore he was ex­changed.

Kon­a­jeski said en­slaved per­sons once lived in the house’s ad­join­ing prop­erty, and her hus­band tracked down their names in his re­search. Both the Cathe­dral Street house and its at­tached unit were de­scribed as “hand­some” at the time around which they were built.

“The out­side, front and back, has been painted a light cream color, cal­cu­lated with the … spa­cious wi­d­ows to ren­der the ap­pear­ance of these struc­tures, when fin­ished, most beau­ti­ful and ef­fec­tive,” ac­cord­ing to The Sun’s “Lo­cal Mat­ters” sec­tion from Feb. 27, 1846.

It added: “A num­ber of very fine build­ings are be­ing erected, we ob­serve, which prom­ise, when fin­ished, to add much to the beauty of that sec­tion of the city, in which there are al­ready con­gre­gated many of the most mag­nif­i­cent spec­i­mens of ar­chi­tec­tural art and me­chan­i­cal skill that adorn our city, equal, in­deed, if not in size, at least in true grandeur of style and faith­ful­ness of work­man­ship to which any of our sis­ter cities can boast.”

Dr. Wil­liam Ste­wart Hal­stead likely lived there by at least 1887, ac­cord­ing to that year’s Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity reg­is­ter, which lists 508 Cathe­dral St. as the doc­tor’s ad­dress. Hal­stead, known as the “Fa­ther of Mod­ern Surgery” and of­ten re­garded as one of the “Big Four” found­ing pro­fes­sors at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal, served as sur­geon-in-chief there and worked as the med­i­cal school’s first pro­fes­sor of surgery (all the while bat­tling co­caine, and later, mor­phine de­pen­dency).

The Gaither fam­ily, mean­while, con­tin­ued to rise to lo­cal promi­nence de­spite its ties to the Con­fed­er­acy. Col. Gaither’s son, Ge­orge — who may have lived next door af­ter Union troops raided the fam­ily farm dur­ing the war — went on to be­come Mary­land’s at­tor­ney gen­eral and a Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for gov­er­nor in 1907.

In clos­ing the door on her time in her Cathe­dral Street home, Kon­a­jeski said she hopes the owner will take pride in pre­serv­ing the house’s his­tory — if not in honor of her hus­band’s mem­ory, then for the sake of Bal­ti­more.

“There are so few houses like this left,” she said. “I’ve never seen ghosts be­fore, but I like to think the orig­i­nal own­ers are happy with the work my hus­band has done.”


The ex­te­rior of the prop­erty at 508 Cathe­dral St., the end unit in a se­ries of Mount Ver­non town­homes.

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