Groups join to secure Newtown home renovation

Renovation of a jewel of a historic home in Newtown was celebrated with coffee, doughnuts and praise for those who, together, saved it from demolition.

The striking structure, built in 1905 and with a unique wrap-around porch, situated at 501 Poplar Hill Ave., was restored with the aid of Mayor Jake Day and the Salisbury City Council, the Salisbury Historic District Commission and nonprofit groups including the Newtown Association, Friends of Poplar Hill and the Wicomico Historical Society.

Grants were obtained from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Maryland and Maryland Historic Trust. There were also local efforts to raise money.

K. King Burnett, retired Salisbury lawyer and president of Wicomico County Historical Properties, who called an informal news event to thank those who helped, said the exterior required about $60,000 in grant money and donated labor.

“It was covered with asbestos shingles. We had to take those off and repair the siding underneath where it had been cracked or split.

“We had to redo the roof. The fire had gone through the roof and it was old and had a number of layers. We took off a layer or two and put on a new roof.

“The porch had been enclosed into the house over the years. We had to undo that. We restored it to its original configuration,” he said.

A banister for the staircase was taken from another house in Newtown that the city was demolishing. And, the exterior was painted a cheery yellow.

“We are really proud of what we have done for Newtown and Salisbury,” Burnett said.

“We thought this was going to be an empty tooth and nothing would get done. But without a history, who are we as a people?” he said, emphasizing the historical significance of stately homes in the Newtown neighborhood.

He thanked Kay Gibson of Newtown for restoring the porch that he said is the only one of its kind in Salisbury.

“Kay said, ‘I will take on the orch. I will do the porch,” Burnett said, pointing out the attractive columns.

He introduced the owner, William Thompson, who works in pharmaceutical sales, for a company based in Washington, D.C.

Thompson, the father of a 3-year-old girl, grew up a few houses away and bought the Poplar Hill home two or three years ago.

He has hired contractors to complete interior renovation, from new walls to rebuilding the kitchen and bathrooms and installing a new HVAC system. There are two fireplaces and he said he hopes to have one of them working again.

City Council President Jack Heath stood on the porch and addressed the small crowd gathered to celebrate Thompson’s ownership and see the interior.

Among those attending were fellow officers and board members; Ray Thompson, retired SSU Professor and former Head of SSU’s Nabb Center; and Aleta Davis, a Newtown resident and former head of the Friends of Poplar Hill.

Thompson’s father was also there.

“It’s a great honor to be standing in front of this historic building,” Heath said.

In 2013, the home was saved from demolition and is a “prime example of what public-private partnerships can do,” he said.

“This is a win-win-win situation. Newtown area wins because it gets a home. The city benefits from taxes from another property and Mr. Thompson benefits. This is a great day for all of Salisbury,” he said.

The 2,600-square-foot home has some of its original doors, five bedrooms and two and one-half bathrooms, Thompson said.

“We moved here, to this neighborhood, when I was in fifth grade and we lived on Isabella Street,” Thompson said, motioning toward his childhood home.

“I grew up not even seven houses down,” he said.

“I’m excited this opportunity was presented and I’m excited to be getting this home back to the beautiful landmark it always has been.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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