Sean “Sinatra” Reilly’s Quaker Hill Home in Wilmington, Delaware
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All the Way Home
If the sub-basement’s stark stone walls could speak, they would tell tales of runaway slaves hiding in a tunnel beneath the house, part of the Quaker Hill network on the Underground Railroad.
Reilly found marbles in the basement that belonged to the 12 children of the Lemon family, who squeezed into the house in the early 20th century. He returned the playthings when a few of the siblings came back as senior citizens for a visit.
The 21st century ushered in fresh challenges for both the house and Reilly. His partner died. He buried a sister. His restaurant closed—“and I turned 50.”
Like the neighborhood he loves, Reilly endured. He decided to devote himself to music, while maintaining a practice as an executive recruiter.
“I’m not going to kick myself in the butt at 75 and say ‘Why didn’t I do this?’” he says.
He also invested in his home, taking advantage of government incentives for improvements made to historic properties. He put $100,000 into a new cedar-shake roof, traditional six-over-six wood-framed windows, a new kitchen and other updates and was rewarded with tax credits of nearly $20,000.
“I would not have known about the opportunity except for a relative,” he says. “It is a mountain of paperwork and a big headache but worth it in the end.”
Today, a black, wrought-iron fence defines a tidy garden and a brick path in front of the house. The elegant, Flemish-bond brick façade shows no signs of the fire that brought the structure to the brink of ruin. And Reilly is still falling head over heels for the city.
“I have 25 windows,” he says. “I can see out—and people can see in.”
He sees himself as the willing steward of an historic home, one in a long line of city dwellers.
“Who is going to live in this house 100 years from now?” he asks. “I’m sure it will still be here.”
Find your place in time. Sean Reilly, who loves the music and the vibe of the 1930s, was drawn to the boxy lines and plush look of a mohair sofa and chairs.
From trash to treasure. An Art Deco lighting fixture, headed to the landfill, has a new home in a bathroom.
Mix and match. In the kitchen, Reilly teamed a carved wooden church pew, circa 1820, with a sleek, 1970s-era glass and chrome table from Shipley Grill, a restaurant he owned in downtown Wilmington.
Create your own timeline. A second-floor corridor is a gallery for family photos, including black-and-white photography of the homeowner’s grandfather, John E. Reilly Sr., a state senator, with Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Do the paperwork. Applying for government aid that enabled Reilly to receive a handsome tax credit was cumbersome—but well worth the effort.