BOLIVAR — The rescue of a distinctive historic home in Bolivar has been recognized with an Excellence in Preservation Award by the Harpers Ferry-Bolivar Historic Town Foundation. The annual award recognizes the work of Pam Leonard and John Flower for their contribution to maintaining and enhancing the architectural, historical and cultural heritage of the community. Their preservation of the long-neglected home at 21 Downing St. saved it from further deterioration and brought the property back to life.
When Leonard and Flower purchased the property in 2020, the house had been vacant for several years and was barely visible from Washington Street through the lush greenery of the front yard. The couple are history buffs, and as they cleaned up and made DIY repairs with the help of a friend, they were thrilled to uncover some of the house’s secrets.
The upper two floors of the home stand as a rare flat-roofed Italian-style home in the Harpers Ferry-Bolivar communities. It features wide overhanging eaves with evenly spaced scrolled cornice brackets across the front. At first glance, the eye takes in a two-story house perched on a high stone foundation with a Victorian-era porch framed in spindles and gingerbread trimmings.
Closer examination reveals that a frugal 19th century homebuilder chose to extend his original properties by placing the wooden structure on top of a much older dwelling – in fact, two dwellings. What looks like a simple stone foundation, Leonard and Flower now realize, is a one or two room dwelling, mostly above ground in the front and a smaller one room dwelling in the back, built into the side of hill. Separating the two is an outdoor kitchen fireplace (covered by the previous owners) and a small courtyard.
Although Leonard has not yet had time to do as much historical research as she would like, the stone structures appear to be pre-war, dating to at least the early 1800s. This estimate matches deeds showing that a woman named Susanah Downey obtained the property at this time and owned it until it passed to her heirs in 1884. (The street running down the east side of the property now called “Downing” Street was referred to in deeds as late as 1937 as Downey Street.)
The house has good bones despite its dilapidated appearance when purchased. Working as they have the time, Leonard and Flower have substantially improved the property, cleaning up the overgrowth, painting, rebuilding the greenhouse out back (which was added by the previous owner), improving the drainage around the house and repairing the cracked plaster inside. Much remains to be done, and their goal is to preserve the house and honor its age.
The Foundation will present its 2022 Preservation Excellence Award to Leonard and Flower at its annual meeting tonight, via Zoom video conference. The Harpers Ferry-Bolivar Historic Town Foundation unites two towns with a vision to inspire citizens and visitors with our history, beauty, diversity and hospitality. The Foundation’s initiatives focus on historic preservation, promotion and beautification.