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This Maryland House Was Built Just for Spite

April 29, 1990|LYNN WILLIAMS | BALTIMORE SUN

FREDERICK, Md. — Spite. It's not a pretty emotion. But my, is it a pretty house.

The people of Frederick, have long had reason to thank Dr. John Tyler for a particular fit of pique in 1814. Among the most grateful are Bill and Andrea Myer, who have turned the landmark Spite House, now called the Tyler-Spite House, into a pioneering bed and breakfast business.

The story of the Tyler-Spite House, enshrined in folklore, is this:

Tyler was an eminent ophthalmologist, the first American-born physician to perform a cataract operation, and owner of several choice parcels of Frederick land, which he had bought at public auction from the confiscated estate of a notorious Tory.

In 1814, one of these parcels, on the courthouse square, lay in the way of the city's plans to extend Record Street south to meet West Patrick Street. The idea of a road cutting across his land, next to his house, did not please the strong-willed doctor.

Like many latter-day property owners threatened by development, Tyler protested the move. But he did more--he decided to fight City Hall.

In the course of his research he discovered a local law that said if a substantial building was placed in the path of a proposed road or work was in progress, the road could not be built.

The doctor found a building contractor willing to start work that very night. When the road crews arrived in the morning, they found a hole in the ground where their road was supposed to go and workmen were building a foundation. Sitting in a chair overlooking the work was the spiteful, self-satisfied Dr. John Tyler.

Tyler never lived in the classically handsome, three-story building, preferring to rent it to tenants. (His own house, next door, is now the Church House of All Saints Episcopal Church.)

Since Tyler's death the Tyler-Spite House has passed through the hands of several families, including the Kunkels, who enlarged it in the mid-19th Century, and the Posses, who modernized its systems and restored it in the 20th Century, adding a swimming pool in the back.

The most recent owners were the Philippines-based family of World War II naval hero Charles (Chick) Parsons. When the Parsonses made plans to sell, the Myers, who lived in the house next door, naturally took an interest.

The Myers have been involved with historic properties and preservation for several years. They restored their own Lane House, a former home of the families of two Maryland governors, as well as a western Maryland Gothic landmark, which they run as a bed and breakfast inn.

And, of course, as proprietors of the Castle in Mount Savage, they saw the Tyler-Spite House's ample B&B potential. Not only did it have commercial zoning, off-street parking, six bedrooms and the kind of old-fashioned splendor that inn-lovers seek, but it filled a community niche.

Although Frederick has the kind of restaurants, historic buildings and antique shops that attract tourists, it has a dearth of B&Bs in which to house them. There is only one other bed and breakfast inn within the city, and no other in the downtown historic district.

According to Bill Myer, the Parsonses were enthusiastic about the idea, which would save the grand old building from the probable fate of being converted to office use.

Getting the Tyler-Spite House in shape for the public took three months, not only for cosmetic fix-ups but to get the legal technicalities straightened out.

"We had to get an attorney, then we had to get it surveyed, and get a planner to make sure it fit in with the historical plans of downtown Frederick," Bill Myer said.

Despite support from Frederick's then-Mayor Ron Young, the process was more drawn-out and expensive than anticipated, in part because of the efforts of a group of neighbors who petitioned against the business, having heard (mistakenly) that there would be a restaurant serving liquor on the premises.

The decorating, directed by Andrea Myer, was done quickly but with panache, and features a mixture of antiques from the Myers collection, new furniture combining comfort, durability and a traditional look, and some pieces that were bought along with the house.

The "legacies" include the early 19th-Century portraits in the family and music room, and many Philippine mahogany pieces that had belonged to the Parsonses.

On the very desk in the front hall that holds the house's literature and guest book, Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed the treaty that ended the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

Bill Myer repainted the rooms. The library, in which tea is served, is a rosy brick-red that matches the red Maryland marble fireplace. New chandeliers were installed above the magnificent winding stairway and throughout the house.

The second-floor bedrooms, two of which have canopy beds, are decorated in a formal, traditional mode that matches the house's architecture. Those bedrooms on the third floor favor a more romantic, Victorian look.

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