68 – 121 Lakin Avenue, Boonsboro, MD
Lakins came to this region in the 17th century, settled in Jefferson, Maryland, and spread into surrounding areas as time passed. Members of the family still remain in the western part of the state. In the 1820s, Boonsboro grew along the road west as a collection of services for travelers. The town widened onto side streets slowly. It was around 1920 when developers expanded onto Lakin Avenue, which had been named for Abraham Lakin, a dentist who came to the town in the 1850s. Here, on narrow lots, are sturdy frame homes under ample shade trees.
Eleanor Lakin lives at 121 on the street named after her great-grandfather, in the buff-gray house with dark blue and white trim that is half hidden behind a huge magnolia. While Lakins did not build the little house, the family has long been associated with it. The house was rented by a distant relative, purchased by Eleanor’s great-aunt Virginia Beall as a retirement home in 1952, and then remained in the family after her death. Eleanor’s sister and her family lived there for thirteen years, and Eleanor has been there ever since.
The house has three bays and a gambrel roof with a broad shed dormer across the front. In the center bay, a small arched roof, supported on heavy brackets, shelters the front door. The top of the door is curved to reflect this roof and has twelve lights that are also curved in the top rank. A one-story sunroom is on the west.
When first built in the fall of 1923 by Charles and Mabelle Gardner, 119 and 121 were mirror image houses. They shared a driveway that split behind the houses to enter two-car garages set at angles so they would face the ends of the drive. These garages have jerkinheads; and, inside, a narrow, steep set of steps without rails leads to the loft storage space above.
This and several other homes on Lakin Avenue are pre-cut houses, the first wave of prefabrication in the housing industry. Sears Roebuck sold home kits, but so did a number of other companies such as Bennett Homes, Better-Built and Ready-Cut, of North Tonawanda, New York, and Sterling Homes of Bay City, Michigan. These homes were pre-cut and shipped with doors, windows, cupboards, wardrobes, colonnades, arches, trim, brackets, shingles, hardware and barrels of nails. Even paint was included. Plaster, masonry materials, heating, lighting and plumbing supplies were to be purchased locally to save on shipping and damage costs; or they were bought separately from the catalog.
One advertising letter states …Economy is the controlling idea in every Sterling plan, economy that eliminates waste in material and labor and all unnecessary expense, and helps the person who is earnestly seeking a home to obtain one of honest value at an honest price. Every true American should own his own home. The Sterling System of Home Building is doing its utmost to make this easy and possible.
Bennett explained less lyrically that they saved money by buying in bulk, eliminating architects’ and contractors’ fees, and by quantity production of standardized millwork. They saved waste by using standard sizes and lengths in their plans, saved carpenters’ time by eliminating measuring and fitting. A five percent discount was offered for cash payment, and a house like the one at 121 Lakin sold for $2,782.50 in 1920.
The front door opens into the living room, facing the stairs to the second floor. The dining room to the left was entered originally through French doors under a trapezoidal transom that has no glass. This large opening was to allow the movement of warm air in winter. A large grate in the living room floor directly over the furnace also allowed warm air to circulate. The Bennett Pipeless Furnace was advertised as follows: …Heats the entire house with one register. Warm air is forced to all rooms and cold air is drawn off the floors…Easy to install. A man and a boy can set it up in a single day. A new furnace has long since been installed, the grate removed, the floor filled in with matching pine and the French doors stored away, but the open transom remains.
The original kitchen was behind the dining room, but this room is being converted into a library. Woodwork throughout the house is stepped and finished with a quarter molding to present a more delicate version of colonial woodwork. Windows have six-over-one sashes, doors have five horizontal panels and floors are narrow-board pine. Originally the upstairs held three bedrooms and a large bath. This bath still has the plaster dado struck with shallow grooves to imitate long narrow wall tiles.
In 1994, Eleanor Lakin designed and built an addition to her home. It is a large, open space on both levels, gallery space to display her collections of folk art, dolls and dollhouses. The basic shape of the addition reflects the gambrel of the original house, but it is filled with light from large, multi-pane windows and skylights. This kitchen/great room area joins the main house through the back door from the original kitchen and a door that once was a window in the living room. A two-story south-facing window lights the new kitchen, which is overlooked by a balcony. The floors are natural oak and the cabinets frosted white birch. A fireplace in the great room area is equipped with a gas log that ignites with a remote control device. The mantel is simple so that it can set off the early wooden horse and jockey weathervane that strides upon it.
A hall extends back from the kitchen along the side of the great room to a full bath and to the garage, which has been incorporated into the house. Here is a dark corner, created when the contractor forgot to install a window. To remedy this, Eleanor painted a mural of a garden scene on the windowless wall. On the east side of the great room is a modern deck with a railing made of balusters from the rail of the small upper porch that had to be removed when the addition was built.
The upper level of the addition, accessed by stairs at the end of the structure, is a large master bedroom with studio space that overlooks the kitchen. There are several skylights and an enormous walk-in closet. The original part of the house is accessed through a door into the upper hall that once opened onto the little porch; and the original window in the back bedroom has been left in place, allowing a pleasing interplay between the two areas.
A number of the original doors have been removed to accommodate movement and furnishings, and a lovely early 19th century mantel long ago replaced the original one in the living room. All these original pieces have been carefully stored in the garage for any future owner who might want to use them again.
The new addition does not imitate the old house, but it reflects it, complements it in a different time. The spaces are comfortable and inviting showcases for Eleanor’s collections. Period does not matter, for there are 17th century pieces mixed with modern and everything in between. It all works. Eleanor smiles happily and says, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Epilogue: Eleanor reports that she has added antiques but made no changes in the house.