DENTON (AP) — The childhood home of Denton native Sophie Kerr, a well-known author in the early 20th century, is on the market.
The circa 1860 farm house, which sits on 2.42 acres on the corner of 5th and Kerr avenues, is listed for $335,000, $12,400 less than the property’s assessed value, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. With 3,658 square feet of space, the house boasts six bedrooms, four full baths, a wood burning fireplace and original features such as a copper-lined wooden bathtub that extends the length of the room into which it is built and still has an old-time hand pump.
“The tub is pretty unique,” said current owner Dyson Kline, who bought the property 16 years ago with his wife, Mary Jo, knowing little about Kerr or the house’s history.
“I just liked the property,” Kline said. “It had a nice, big yard, and the house had a lot of bedrooms. We had a lot of children, so it worked out.”
When his family moved into the house, however, Kline said he began to research Kerr and developed an interest in the Washington College literary prize set up through her will, which is now the largest undergraduate literary prize in the country.
In her will, Kerr bequeathed to Washington College a sum of money, half of which created the Sophie Kerr Prize and the other half of which established the Sophie Kerr Gift, which is used to fund literary enrichment at the school.
While the Klines were more attracted to the size of the house and property than the history behind it, those interested in the property today are mainly history buffs, said Carol Sue Clark of the Clark and Clark Team at Lacaze Meredith in Easton.
“They either know about Sophie or want to know about her,” Clark said.
A “writer for her time,” Kerr penned 23 novels, along with several hundred poems and short stories, beginning in the late 1890s and continuing into the 20th century, said local historian JOK Walsh. Although much of her writing was done in New York City where she spent most of her adult life, Walsh said many of Kerr’s early works are set in Caroline County and bear reference to local people, places and society.
“A number of her writings give very good descriptions of what society was like in the late 1800s in Caroline County,” Walsh said. “She talks a lot about the religious lines. She hated the hypocrisy of people who were seemingly religious.”
Descriptions of Caroline County events and scenery can be found in the short story “There Was a Great Camp-Meeting,” which describes a girl’s conflict about who she’s going to marry, as well as in “Mareea-Maria,” the story of a local guy who marries an Italian immigrant girl, Walsh said.
“There are these nice, narrative descriptions in her works that describe the settings and social life in Caroline County,” Walsh said, using weddings and wedding preparations as an example.
Arguably the most recognizable description, Walsh said, is that of “the high-shouldered house with a cupola and iron fence … near the Episcopal Church on the Courthouse Green” in Kerr’s short story “Peace is Wonderful.” The house in the “fictional story” strongly resembles an unusual house in the same location in Denton owned by “Old Man Taylor,” as Walsh’s grandmother called him, he said.
The similarities continue when Kerr describes the occupant of the house, Mr. Rolyat, “Taylor” spelled backwards as a notorious poisoner of dogs and other animals the same transgression for which “Old Man Taylor” was suspected at one time, Walsh said.
Kerr specifically described her childhood home in the short story “Coming Home for Christmas,” which she wrote in late 1890s, Walsh said, during a trip home from college.
“She wrote a beautiful piece … where she arrives at the train station and gets in a horse-drawn taxi and comes out to the house,” he said. “She describes the lighting, the smells going into the house. She goes on to talk about what she would do at Christmas.”
Even after moving to New York City, Kerr was a frequent visitor to her childhood home, which was built by her father, Jonathan Kerr, a horticulturist, Walsh said. The 90-acre farm came into Kerr’s possession when her parents passed away. She continued to own the property until the 1950s, when she sold it to William Orme, who ignored Kerr’s request and subdivided the land, Walsh said.
“Sophie loved that house and was very tied to it until the later part of her life when she sold it,” Walsh said.
Despite the changes to the property lines, Kline said, Jonathan Kerr’s horticulture roots are still apparent on the now 2.42-acre parcel, as various species of trees some that may be up to 80 years old can be found in the yard.
During his time in the house, Kline has carried on the horticulture tradition by planting more trees, shrubbery and flowers, he said.
The yard also houses one of the property’s original barns, Kline said, which has the antiquated wooden pegs that were popular during the time it was built.
Despite all of the historic features and value, Clark said, it has been a hard property to price.
“There’s really nothing to compare it to,” she said. “Other older and historical homes in the area are big-column, Victorian homes. This was a farm house.”
The property mainly has been used residentially, but was made into a bed and breakfast in the late 1980s and early 1990s under the ownership of John and Thelma Lyons.
The Star Democrat of Easton
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)