Larry Lower to receive Foxglove Garden Club award
The Foxglove Garden Club has voted to give their annual Appreciation Award to Larry Lower for his extensive work on the gardens surrounding his home, thus helping to beautify the house and the Town of Bath.
The award will be presented at the garden club’s December meeting.
The house sits at the southeast corner of Green and Market streets and is the former T.H.B. (Thomas Hart Benson) Dawson home built in 1880. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a featured home on the Walking Tour of Berkeley Springs.
Lower and his partner Jerry Martin purchased the property in 2007 and have been working to renovate and rehabilitate the structure back to its Victorian glory.
The house is surrounded by meticulously planted with gardens laid out in long sweeping curves rather than traditional square or rectangular plots.
“Things are in curves and are not laid out straight. They undulate with the lay of the land,” Foxglove Garden Club member Betty Lou Harmison said.
“Another reason I think it is such a wonderful garden is that it is a Victorian garden and complements the architecture of the house,” Harmison said.
Lower, a landscape architect and horticulturalist, said, “I try to have something blooming all the time. I kind of call it an eclectic, modern Victorian garden.”
The gardens not only surround the house but also frame both sides of the wrought iron fence along the front and side yards facing Green and Market streets.
On the south side of the house where the sun shines most of the day, Lower has planted a vegetable garden with parsnips, beets, tomatoes, spring and fall peas, green beans and herbs.
The backyard features a stone retaining wall, privacy fence, stone steps and a restored well, all framed and planted with flowers and foliage. The well has been filled in as a large planter. Flowers in large pots dot the landscape.
“One of the features of the garden is that we control almost 80% of the water off of the roof,” Lower said. Seven rain barrels around the house collect water for the gardens.
Lower created an entryway in the rear of the house in what used to be a parking area. It features a pergola over the walkway and is fronted by an edible garden of leafy plants.
Most friends enter the house by the entryway. “If someone rings the front door bell, we know they haven’t been to the house before,” Lower said.
T.H.B. Dawson House
The house was built in what is known as the Eastlake design style. British architect Charles Eastlake created the style in the late 19th century.
T.H.B. Dawson was the head of the Republican Party and the first Clerk of Morgan County, a position he held until his death in 1920.
Lower said John Douglas, editor of The Morgan Messenger, tells the story that the house used to be called the “Widow’s Mite” – “mite” meaning a “little bit.”
“The rumor was that for every will Dawson probated, he took a little “mite” of money. That’s why he could afford to build this house,” Lower said.
The house was passed down to Dawson’s daughter Ada in 1920 and eventually to her oldest son Richard Dunn in 1963. Known by then as the Dunn House, it was renovated in the 1970s and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Construction & interior
The house is built of handmade brick rather than the wood used in most Victorian homes in town.
It has a large front porch and porches on both sides featuring intricate woodwork in the Victorian Gothic style under the porch railings and on the trim under the roof eves.
Much of the elaborate woodwork had rotted away, so Lower had it reproduced from old photos by an Amish company in Maryland.
Inside, the house has a striped wood floor foyer of interspaced light and dark wood and worm-worn pine wood floors throughout.
Lower said the worm etchings were not visible until the floors were sanded. Apparently the wood for the floors had been stored outside and worms got into the wood.
On either side of the foyer are nearly identical rooms featuring large bay windows. The room on the left was used as a family parlor and the other as a parlor to greet visitors.
Lower and Martin have turned the family parlor into a dining room. The two have replaced the heating system and completely rewired and re-plumbed the house.
Most of the walls in the house were originally covered with wallpaper. Behind a mirror in the public parlor, Lower and Martin found the signature of the person who hung the wallpaper.
The scribble on the wall reads, “Papered by W.B. Fales of Baltimore, June 24, 1883.”
To preserve the historical significance, Lower and Martin have left the signature area intact as well as several areas of the original Victorian wallpaper around the house.
Beyond the family parlor, now a dining room, Lower and Martin put in a modern kitchen. The original kitchen is a smaller room to the rear that lacked running water.
A sitting room/library is located behind the public parlor.
Two bedrooms, two baths and two offices are located upstairs. Looking out of the window of the master bedroom, you see a perfectly centered view of Warm Springs Ridge and Berkeley Castle.
The banister and railing for the stairway is original. When the house was built in 1880, they had to be shipped in by train.
The train station was at Sir John’s Run and the woodwork for the stairs was brought across the ridge by horse drawn carriage, Lower said.
Carpenters in the late 19th century were only paid about $285 per house. The signatures of the original carpenters are still visible in the attic.
Most people know Lower because of his work as a volunteer in many community organizations.
“We all benefit from the work Larry does in the town,” Harmison said.
Lower is especially proud of being a member of the Historic Landmarks Commission.
“Much of the Town of Bath, through Betty’s and other people’s efforts, is now listed on the National Register as a Historic District,” Lower said.
That designation allows buildings at least 50 years old to be listed as contributing structures. There are about 150 such structures in town, he said.
“If the owners want to rehabilitate one of those structures, and follow some very simple rules, they can get tax credits. The tax credits apply to either residential or commercial buildings that are listed as contributing structures,” he said.
The Historic Landmarks Commission is currently installing plaques with the date of construction on 75 of those structures.
Lower was born and raised on a farm in Fair Play, Missouri. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from University of Missouri.
He joined the Peace Corps as an extension agent. Later he completed a graduated degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan.
Lower served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1972 and went through officer candidate school at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. After graduation, he was assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore.
After his stint in the Army, he stayed on as a civilian employee with the Corps of Engineers in Baltimore and retired in 1997.
Jerry Martin grew up in Washington, D.C. and attended Georgetown University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He later received a Master’s degree from Harvard University.
Martin worked as the assistant director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and later as the National Executive Director of Young Audiences, a non-profit organization that provides arts education for young musicians, dancers and performers.
Lower and Martin owned a Card and Gift shop in Baltimore from 1980 to 1990. They became permanent residents of the county in 1997.
The T.H.B. Dawson house was put on the market in June 2007 and Lower and Martin purchased the property that July.