Jennings House Nears Completion

By JESSICA WETZLER
Daily News-Record 12/9/20
 
ELKTON — From the outside, the Jennings House’s charm is still intact with its white porch and brick exterior.
It’s what’s on the inside that brings the house’s characteristics to life.
After eight months of renovations and two years of planning, the Jennings House project is nearing completion. Town staff began moving from the Elkton Area Community Center to their new office space on Monday while the special projects crew made finishing touches.
During a tour on Monday with the Daily News-Record, Mayor Joshua Gooden said that over the last few months, he had been to the Jennings House daily to check on progress being made.
From his former council member days to being elected as the town’s mayor, Gooden has advocated for the house’s restoration from the beginning.
“The Jennings House has always been a stately building in our community, and the restoration was truly an investment into Elkton’s history that could not be replaced,” he said. “The building has always been a focal point of the town that residents can now enjoy.”
Gooden said that while historic architecture is not always the easiest thing to restore, it was the “right thing to do.”
Built in 1840 by Dr. Simeon Jennings, the structure has served many purposes. In 1862, Jennings cared for wounded Confederate soldiers in his home following the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic.
Subsequent families to occupy the house were the Bear, Yancey and Flory families. The Flory family was the last to live in the house before pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck and Co. purchased the home in the mid-1900s to be used as a clubhouse and space for visitors to stay while in the area.
In 1964, the company donated the home to the town, and it remained under town ownership.
In the last 56 years, the Jennings House has been home to the town’s library, Town Council meeting room, Elkton Police Department, treasurer’s office, community development, public works and administrative offices.
The push to renovate and preserve the Jennings House didn’t occur until 2016, when a flooded basement sparked an inspection that led to the discontinuation of its use as Elkton’s Town Hall.
The inspection determined there was mold throughout the building, leading council members to vote to move government operations to the EACC in August 2017.
After hiring Lineage Architects to assess the building in 2018, the Verona firm conducted a feasibility study. The study concluded that the structure was in “excellent” condition and council could move forward with a decision.
Moving forward, Lineage Architects would continue to provide updates on proposed changes and repairs the Jennings House would need. Plans included an addition on the northern end to have a stairway, a wheelchair lift on the main level, lobby on the main and lower levels of the building, small break room and new handicapped- accessible restrooms.
A two-story addition replaced an enclosed structure on the north side of the building, which was not part of the original building.
New electric, plumbing, storm windows and lighting, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning were also added.
Town Council approved to finance the Jennings House project in April, which officially got the ball rolling for renovations. Gooden said the contract
price was around $950,000.
Throughout the renovation process, Gooden said, one of the more eye-opening aspects from the town’s perspective was how well the new addition matched the original 180-year-old building.
“The addition not only compliments the historic structure, but it provides all the necessary restroom facilities and access to town services that was not provided before,” he said.
One of the more difficult parts that came from the project was working to ensure services for residents ran smoothly, Gooden said.
As Gooden saw the project unfold during a time he transitioned leadership roles for the town, he said he wanted to make sure the building was not only restored to serve the town’s needs, but also preserve its historical integrity.
Throughout the 1900s, Gooden said, the inside of the building had been covered up and “modernized.” Coats of paint and wallpaper lined the walls and the coffered ceilings were covered up.
Bringing a period- appropriate feel to the interior was made possible by Gaither Hurt, special projects manager for the town.
“He spent countless hours, even on his own time, making sure that this project came to fruition,” Gooden said. “He made sure that every inch of the building was preserved, and it shows through his craftsmanship and attention to detail.”
On Friday, the town will host an open house around 3 p.m. to give residents the chance to tour the renovated Jennings House and get acquainted with the updated space.
For Ditman Flory, whose grandfather owned the house for 40 years, a visit will be a walk down memory lane.
The last time Flory was inside the house was in 1946 when he was 8 years old.
“It’s a beautiful old home. It really is,” he said.
Flory said he remembers visiting the house as a child. One of his fondest memories was when he received a tool kit one Christmas morning and began sawing off pieces of the banister for lumber.
When he visits the renovated house, Flory said, he looks forward to sharing memories from when he was a child.