Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Corbett General Store

In 1719, a man named Joseph Cromwell came into ownership of a parcel of land in northeastern Baltimore County, Maryland, which became known as Cromwell’s Park.  In 1864, part of Cromwell’s Park was sold to Isaac Corbett. This was just two years after Rezin Worthington, a relative of settler John Worthington, after whom Worthington Valley in northern Baltimore County is named, constructed a humble farmhouse some thirty miles west of Cromwell’s Park – a wood and plaster structure which I have called home since 2001.  But I digress.

Immediately after buying Cromwell’s Park in 1864, Isaac Corbett deeded a small parcel of his land to the Northern Central Railroad for a flag station (so called because the train only stopped when a signal indicated the presence of passengers or cargo).  The area became known then as Corbett’s Station. Interestingly, a provision of that early deed stipulated that if no passengers were picked up at the train station for two weeks straight, the land would revert back to Corbett.  The tactic worked for several years and the stop at Corbett’s Station stayed busy -- allowing growth and construction to accelerate in nearby communities, although the only structures near the station itself were a stone house and a stately Greek revival home down the street owned by William Gwynn.

This covered bridge on Corbett Road was photographed
in 1938 by the Poteet family
By 1881, the flag station had fallen into disuse and was torn down. In 1886 a builder named Daniel Alder bought the land.  Almost immediately, Alder set to work erecting himself “a town”.  Alder first constructed a road right through the property on which the railroad station had stood. His new road extended across the Gunpowder River, complete with a covered bridge, and connected with the main north-south route between Baltimore and York, Pennsylvania.

This photograph of the general store was taken in 1982
In 1883 Alder erected his first building on the new “Corbett Road”, a large “six-bay by two-bay” structure which housed a general store, post office, Methodist church, wheelwright and blacksmith shops and…a brand new railroad station.  In 1885, a lumberman named Robert Merryman moved his saw mill to Corbett, attracted by the land’s proximity to the railroad.  With this ready source of lumber, the town of Corbett grew and prospered. By 1890 the blacksmith and wheelwright shops had been relocated down the street into the new “Corbett Village”.  The train station enjoyed busy service once again, shipping milk from area farmers and materials to and from the saw mill.  There was a steady flow of passenger traffic.

My maternal grandfather, Earl Myers,
worked as a telegraph operator for
the North Central Railroad in 1910
Around 1892, the year my maternal grandfather was born just to the north in York, Pennsylvania, a man named John Slade bought the thriving Corbett general store and post office and expanded, building a warehouse and stable nearby. An 1896 tax list describes the general store this way: “...a frame store/dwelling [with a} combined stable/coalhouse building, warehouse… and outbuildings.”  That same year a schoolhouse was constructed in the village and the Methodist church moved its services there. In the early 1900s a father-son medical practice was established in Corbett, which became the impetus for formation of one of the very first telephone systems in the region.

Although the town seemed robust, times were challenging.  In 1900 the saw mill closed. By 1911 my grandfather had made his way west from Pennsylvania to California to seek his fortune with the railroad there.  In the 1930s the Corbett farm machinery shop shut down.  Despite eventual closure of all the other commercial businesses in town, Corbett’s identity survived because of the general store and post office at 1702 Corbett Road.  Finally, in 1944, the post office closed and mail was thereafter re-routed through the neighboring community of Monkton, Maryland.

The old Northern Central Railway, which once carried
President Lincoln north to deliver his Gettysburg Address,
is now a hiking and biking trail
In the 1960s local train service was halted to Corbett and the station was demolished once again.  In 1972 flood damage to the tracks from Hurricane Agnes led to total abandonment of the line, which in more modern times has become a popular hiking and biking trail. That same year, a young couple by the name of Paul and Dee Dee Phillips bought the old general store and set about converting the stately Victorian structure into a single family dwelling where they settled and raised their two children.  

With a degree in interior design, Dee Dee Phillips and her husband reformed the old general store into a lovely home, outfitted with an impressive collection of antique furniture and artifacts, the fruits of an eventual thirty-year career selling fine antiques and exhibiting at some of the most prestigious antique shows across the country.  Despite being selected by Martha Stewart to design a room in her Westport, Connecticut showhouse, Dee Dee longed for a more intimate creative outlet that would make “her soul laugh and her heart sing”.

Paul and Dee Dee's gift shop on Fenwick
 Island is on my must-see list for next summer!
In the summer of 1992, Dee Dee followed her muse and opened Carolina Street, a furniture store and gift shop on nearby Delaware’s Fenwick Island.  Using her well-trained eye, Dee Dee curated her shop with attractive home furnishings, one-of-a-kind art objects, whimsical garden accoutrements and unique gifts.  The business thrived and, although their children are now grown with little ones of their own, Dee Dee and Paul continue to live in the old general store on Corbett Road in Monkton during the off-season, and spend their summers in an apartment above their furniture gallery on Fenwick Island.  On January 3, it was my good fortune to accept an invitation to the historic general store in Corbett for a festive dinner party.

In the early 1980s, when my former husband and perpetual friend, Jesse Turner, was married to his first wife, Adrienne, Jesse got to know Paul and Dee Dee through his then mother-in-law, who also sold antiques.  Paul and Dee Dee’s path serendipitously crossed with Jesse’s again a few months ago when Dee Dee found herself enrolled in a seminar with Jesse at Landmark Education (see my post about Landmark from last February).  Dee Dee and Paul quickly arranged for a dinner party to renew acquaintance with their old friend.  I was invited to tag along.

From their apartment above the store, Paul and Dee Dee
look down on a multitude of garden accoutrements
for sale in their courtyard
Despite record cold and icy conditions, I was excited to meet Dee Dee and Paul and see this converted general store for myself. There would be seven of us, most of whom had been participants in the Landmark seminar.  It was to be a casual dinner, yet I wanted to add a bit of sparkle to the evening, so I wore a swanky new top embellished with glittering sequins from Boston Proper which was a Christmas gift last month from my best friend, Kari, in Dallas, Texas. I paired the sweater with HUE leggings from Macy’s and some vintage boots by Pleaser which I bought in the 1970s as I worked my way through college.

Paul Phillips, left, and his wife, Dee Dee, in the comfortable
living room of their historic "Corbett general store" home,
now part of  Monkton, Maryland
Jesse and I made our way carefully across the frozen countryside to the Phillips’ historic abode.  The exterior of the old general store looked much like it did in the 1800s, with large windows which I could imagine once displayed the accoutrements of 19th century life – washboards and coffee mills, lye soap and treadle sewing machines.  The interior was charming.  Dee Dee was eager to show me around the central level of the spacious home.  The living room, which had been the main room of the general store, still sports a massive wall of floor-to-ceiling wooden cabinets and display shelving, which Dee Dee has lovingly stuffed to the gills with the sundries of a lifetime spent hunting and gathering unusual and beautiful specimens of American decorative art from all over the mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay.

Julia's mural of
pink azaleas is
just stunning  
Julia's depiction of zebra hide
on hardwood flooring is to
die for. This pattern would
be perfect on the floor in
my home office
During a course of cocktails and brie with crackers, we warmed ourselves by a cast iron woodstove which was stoked to its limits against the unprecedented cold outside.  Paul and Dee Dee said they owed the healthy stack of firewood to their daughter, Julia, who had been by earlier in the day.  Julia has grown up to be a successful artist and purveyor of fine furniture in her own right. She and her husband, James O’Reilly, own Monkton Studios, where Julia’s considerable talent is put to use decorating dressers and chests.  Perhaps most impressively, Julia also offers her artistic skills in unbelievably gorgeous faux-finishes and mural-painting.  I was blown away by some of the work displayed on her website.

The ambiance in each antique-filled room was enchanting.
The dining room looked so warm and inviting, one could
scarcely remember the frigid weather outside 
Alas, two of the invitees to sup at Paul and Dee Dee’s were not willing to risk the icy driving conditions so far out in the county, so only five of us eventually sat down to dinner in Paul and Dee Dee’s formal dining room.  The table, set with fine china and lit by candlelight, was breathtaking.  Paul made scrumptious chili; Dee Dee added a tasty tossed green salad and savory muffins.  We finished with Paul's fabulous rum cake and some decadent pieces of chocolate-covered orange and lemon rind.  Nobody wanted to leave such a magical setting!

But the roads were only getting more slick, so eventually we said our goodbyes and ventured out of the old Corbett general store and into the frozen night, warmed for our long drive back by new acquaintances begun and old friendships rekindled.
"Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves" (a quote by James Barrie from Paul and Dee Dee's Carolina Street website)

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