Investment in Historic Worsell Manor Pays Returns in Charm

Warwick, Md., mansion was a favorite of George Washington.



Photograph by John Lewis

Worsell Manor was a favorite destination of George Washington, who, indeed, slept there in the mid-1700s, chronicling nine visits to the Georgian-style manse in his diaries.

Any vestiges of its former glory were hidden beneath a tangle of vines and shrubs in 2011, when Barbara McGuirk looked at the property on a rural road outside Warwick, Md.

She was looking for acreage near their former home in Middletown, where her husband, Scott Millar, could hunt.

“I never dreamed there was a house because it was so overgrown you couldn’t see it from the road,” she recalls.

The property was in foreclosure and had been vacant for 12 years. McGuirk arranged for a tour and the couple picked their way through dust and debris, taking care not to fall through holes in the kitchen floor.

They emerged elated, certain they could restore the house.

“If someone didn’t take it on, this wonderful building would continue to deteriorate and, eventually, be torn down,” McGuirk says.

Fortuitously, many fine details of the home survived, including a gracious central staircase, stately moldings, nine fireplaces and built-in cupboards with traditional butterfly shelves that are arched to look like wings.

“We were very lucky that so many features of the house were intact,” Millar says. 

Reinventing the Manor

Although the couple was intent on bringing back Worsell Manor, they didn’t plan to live on the estate full time.

To justify the expanse and expense of the restoration, they had to come up with a strategy in which the property would generate income.

Their solution was to create a venue for weddings and other activities. The house would provide an intimate setting for small events, as well as accommodations for overnight guests. An idle dairy barn would be revitalized, reborn as a concert hall and center for larger receptions.

McGuirk is a surgeon and an infertility specialist at Reproductive Associates of Delaware in Newark. Millar is a systems engineer, who works with the Federal Aviation Administration on the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

Despite the couple’s tenuous ties to the hospitality industry—she worked her way through college at a resort in the Poconos, he was a lifeguard—they dived in.

“We both come from big families,” McGuirk says. “We are used to multitasking.”

Photographs by John Lewis

Into the 21st century

In the 17th century, when Worsell Manor was built from locally produced brick and timber, the house was heated with fireplaces.

The new owners relined the flues, although these days the fireplaces are a source of ambiance rather than heat. Climate control is provided by a state-of-the-art geothermal system.

“We wanted to stay true to the house, yet make it comfortable for people,” Millar says.

They hired Scott Mackie of North East, Md., to serve as the general contractor. He assembled a swarm of plaster artisans, who worked on stilts to renew cracked and crumbling interior walls.

“Several contractors suggested we just sheetrock the whole house,” McGuirk says. “But if we had done that we would have lost the detail in these wonderful moldings.”

In researching Worsell Manor, the new owners gleaned abundant information from a pamphlet about the estate written by Alfred Norton Phillips Jr., grandson of the chemist who patented Phillips Milk of Magnesia.

Phillips bought the manor in 1937, restored the house and operated a dairy farm on the surrounding acreage. 

His rotary pencil sharpener is still mounted on the wall in his office, next to the spot where his desk stood. His gun racks
remain in place.

But now the office is an intimate tavern room with an opulently carved French bar made in Brittany that the new owners discovered at Gatsby’s Collection, a seller of antiques and architectural elements in St. Michaels, Md.

“The carvings of the boating scenes really spoke to me because I love the water,” Millar says.  

Cooking lessons

Because the former kitchen was in ruins, the couple started from scratch. It’s the only room in which the homeowners altered the original floor plan, expanding a dark, cramped space into a large, open kitchen with views of the grounds.

“We hold cooking classes here, so it had to be big enough for 14 or so people to gather comfortably,” McGuirk says. “At a class on Colonial bread making, we learned that they would squeeze the grapes that grow outside the kitchen to get yeast for the bread.”

In addition to the original brick bread oven, the kitchen is outfitted with professional-style appliances and a large island for demonstrations. Millar found a whimsical, vividly colored acrylic painting of four cooks serving casseroles at Smyrna Fire Hall by artist Nancy Butler.

The wide-planked floor was salvaged from the hayloft in the barn and re-laid in the kitchen.

“Because the wood is so old, it’s petrified,” McGuirk says. “The guys who cut it went through saw blades like crazy.”

To make room for a powder room, workers punched through an exterior wall in the kitchen and into a jot of a garden shed, retaining the brick wall and rustic feel of the shed.

“It’s the perfect size and the perfect place for a powder room,” Millar says.

Photographs by John Lewis

Washington slept here

There are six bedrooms in Worsell Manor, including two on the third floor, where exposed beams are marked with Roman numerals that helped the 17th century builders of the home match the joists.

Washington’s diaries, preserved in the Smithsonian, reveal that he stayed in the large bedroom on the second floor at the front of the house.

Today, large brass lamps cast in the shapes of bald eagles flank the bed. A massive carved armoire with mirrors on each of its three doors is stationed next to the fireplace. It’s one of a number of antiques and reproductions the homeowners bought at an auction in Texas and shipped north.

A feature article on the home published in The Baltimore Sun in the 1950s provided clues as to how the Phillips family furnished the dining room. The wrought-iron candelabra that stand on either side of the fireplace are similar to a pair pictured in the newspaper.

The sideboard was discovered at an estate sale in St. Michaels and retains its original plate from Potthast Brothers, a
Baltimore-based furniture maker known for handmade reproductions of Queen Anne, Sheraton and Hepplewhite antiques.

“I was excited that the piece had a Maryland connection,” Millar says.

A mahogany gate-leg table was donated by a friend who thought the piece would be at home at the manor. The big and bling-y crystal chandelier over the dining table is a 21st century addition, purchased online at overstock.com.

Outdoors, the couple supplanted patches of weeds with formal gardens. The centerpiece is a vintage fountain topped with a pineapple, the Colonial symbol of hospitality, discovered at Gatsby’s. A half-acre vegetable garden yields enough produce to supply the cooking classes, as well as the homeowners’ family.

A massive sycamore in front of the house was likely planted when the manor was built, circa 1683. Its trunk measures 22 feet in circumference. 

“In summer, it shades the entire house,” Millar says.

Although the couple’s primary residence is their new home in Galena, Md., Worsell Manor is a country house of sorts, a quiet place to get away. 

McGuirk and Millar hosted their extended family on the estate for Thanksgiving. “It was a great experience, having everyone gathered around the table and enjoying the house,” she says. “After all those years of standing empty, the house has come back to life.”    

GET THE LOOK

Celebrate the past 
At Worsell Manor, trusses on the third floor were left exposed, displaying the 17th century adz (tool) marks made by the home’s builders.

Repurpose materials
When a hayloft was removed during renovations on the barn, the loft’s centuries-old wood was re-laid as a kitchen floor.

Integrate modern amenities 
There’s a flat-screen TV among the antiques in the formal parlor. New ceramic-tile bathrooms were installed throughout the house. A geothermal system provides heating and cooling. 

Embrace simplicity 
The 12-over-12, divided-light windows are marvels themselves. Many retain wavy panes of glass that are more than 300 years old. The owners opted not to cover them with curtains.

Seek skilled artisans 
At the manor, plasterers restored damaged walls. Amish craftsmen transformed the barn into a large hall for concerts and receptions.

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February 2016

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Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
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1200 N DuPont Highway
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More information

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View map »


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Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $0-14

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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Contact Name: Charisse R McGill
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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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Christiana Care at the New Castle Farmers Market Location: New Castle Farmers Market, 110 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, Market Stage Area Time: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Routine screenings for...

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Features activities and crafts that help visitors learn about local and national political roles in environmental conservation. Visitors can learn about the battle that politicians fought for a...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

More information

A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

More information

Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

More information

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