Historic Mount Vernon townhome listed
After 20 years of work, owner hopes someone will finish restoration
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.