Inside The Ultimate House-Sitting Gig (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Inside The Ultimate House-Sitting Gig

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:08
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Sabri Ben-Achour in today for Rebecca Sheir. Our theme this week is House and Home and so far our focus has been on homelessness. But we turn now to the story of people who have houses, old houses and get to live in those old houses for free.

MR. MYRON HORST

00:00:23
It's not free, but it's well worth it. It's a labor of love.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:27
Okay, well, so not exactly free. That's Myron Horst who lives with his family in a 19th century farmhouse in the Monocacy Natural Resource Management area in Frederick County. The deal is this, he fixes up the old house and the state of Maryland gives him a lifetime lease of zero dollars a month through its resident curatorship program.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:47
This sound like a crazy good deal? Well, Horst obviously thinks so, but so does the state. It's a way to restore these historic properties without spending precious taxpayer dollars. Now, 30 years after the program started, it's proven so successful that states up and down the East Coast are copying it, including neighboring Virginia. Jacob Fenston has the story.

MS. AGNES BARTLETT

00:01:09
My children were here yesterday. They had me latch the screen, dear good grief.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

00:01:13
Agnes Bartlett always dreamed of living in an old house.

BARTLETT

00:01:17
I guess for most of my adult life I've wanted an 18th century house.

FENSTON

00:01:22
In the early 1980s, she and her husband were scouring the state of Maryland looking for the perfect old house. She had a realtor friend who did a lot of the legwork asking everyone.

BARTLETT

00:01:31
I have this crazy friend who wants a house, a really old house. Do you know about any old houses where you live?

FENSTON

00:01:38
And the realtor got word of this one vacant farmhouse in Baltimore County.

BARTLETT

00:01:43
And she said, I don't know to whom it belongs, but I know it is an old house.

FENSTON

00:01:46
And that was the catch. It was a lovely old stone house, built just after the revolutionary war, but the owner turned out to be the state of Maryland. The house was located in a small silver of Gunpowder Falls State Park. But the Bartlett's were undeterred. They went to the Department of Natural Resources and said, hey, nobody's living in this house, it's falling apart. Why don't you let us move in and we'll fix it up?

BARTLETT

00:02:09
They said to us, If you want to take care of that house and you want to spend your money to do that, you get your attorney to work with the state's attorney and we'll go from there."

FENSTON

00:02:21
Now, 30 years later, the Bartlett's have restored the house beautifully and it looks like a museum. They spent around $500,000 fixing it up, but Bartlett says it was a good deal. They got to spend three decades here.

BARTLETT

00:02:32
We lived in this house when we had our 40th anniversary, our 50th anniversary and our 60th anniversary.

FENSTON

00:02:39
It was a good deal for the state, too. After success with the Bartlett's, Maryland quickly expanded this resident curatorship program. Today, there are more than 50 houses that have been restored or are in the works. Emily Burrows with the Department of Natural Resources says the state owns lots and lots of land.

MS. EMILY BURROWS

00:02:57
Wildlife management areas, state parks, state forests, Natural resource management areas and that land comes with a lot more than just trees and bunny rabbits. It comes with houses.

FENSTON

00:03:08
And the state can't afford to restore or even maintain all those houses, even though some are historic gems.

BURROWS

00:03:15
Let's see if we can look through here.

FENSTON

00:03:17
On a recent Saturday, I met Burrows at the Stephenson House in Susquehanna State Park. It's currently empty and available.

BURROWS

00:03:23
Okay, so what we're looking at now would've originally been maybe the first parlor.

FENSTON

00:03:31
We're peering in the front window. There's supposed to be an open house but...

BURROWS

00:03:34
The reason we're standing outside right now and not inside is because since we've had wet weather, we've had some mold and it's not safe right now for us to go in the house.

FENSTON

00:03:45
Those sorts of hazards aside restoring an old house is a lot of fun, at least according to Myron Horst.

HORST

00:03:51
I used to be a carpenter and I did work for people and then when we were done, you know, I never saw it again. It was just a job. But this is different.

FENSTON

00:04:01
In 2006, Horst and his wife and six kids moved to this farm just west of Sugarloaf Mountain in Frederick County. They a lot of work to do to make the place habitable. The kids pitched in, Kara, who's 17 helped restore the oldest part of the house, an 1850s log cabin.

KARA HORST

00:04:18
Here in our room, I helped pull rocks out between the logs that were in there. There were flat stones in between the logs and then it was plastered over.

FENSTON

00:04:27
Because Horst's don't own the house, it will eventually go back to the state, they can't pass it on to their kids. But that doesn't bother Myron Horst, even though they've put about $150,000 of work into the place.

HORST

00:04:38
If you look at a house just as an investment then, I mean, you're just looking at money. Whereas, this is, you're looking at it as a place to live, to enjoy, to retire. And it's also a service to our fellow citizens.

BARTLETT

00:04:55
So this would be the grand living room.

FENSTON

00:04:59
Back in Baltimore County, Agnes Bartlett is showing me around the house she and her husband lived in for almost 30 years. Her husband, Larry, passed away last year and now Agnes, who's 85, is packing up and moving to more manageable apartment.

BARTLETT

00:05:13
Just yesterday the man came and took most of the furniture so, the auctioneer.

FENSTON

00:05:19
With all the furniture gone, the rooms echo a bit, but now you can see the old wood floors Bartlett and her husband restored.

BARTLETT

00:05:25
You can't let history be destroyed. It just kills me when I see old buildings being torn down and something new put up and so often the newer architecture is not pleasing. I just like old thing and, of course, I'm in that category myself at this point.

FENSTON

00:05:45
Bartlett says she's proud she able to help save this old house for future generations to enjoy. The state is still figuring out what to do with the property now, but is looking at opening the house to public use, possibly as a state park events center. I'm Jacob Fenston.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:06:11
See photos of some of these houses or for a link to available properties in Maryland, check out our website, metroconnection.org.
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