The MacMillans Rehab a Georgian Home Near Odessa

Living History: The MacMillans lovingly rehabbed an 18th-century house near Odessa.



At a Glance

Who The MacMillan family
What Georgian rehabilitation
Where Odessa

 

The land surrounding Fairview, the grand home built by a Revolutionary War officer in 1773, has evolved dramatically over the centuries, from prosperous wheat farm to burgeoning suburbia.

But the house has been a constant, remaining remarkably unchanged, down to the original key in the massive front door.

“Nobody felt the need to rip things out and start over, which is truly wonderful,” says Katie MacMillan.

She and her husband, Col. Douglas Reed MacMillan, have been faithfully bringing back Fairview, steadily working for 18 years. Their 12-year-old daughter, Mary, is growing up there.

“Mary is the one who reminded me that this is a home, not a museum, when I was dashing around getting ready for a group of school children who were coming for a tour,” Katie says.

Reed MacMillan’s fascination with 18th-century architecture began in 1988 during a visit to Williamsburg, Va., where he and Katie celebrated their first wedding anniversary.

Both had grown up in circa 1960 split-level homes. But as they walked the streets of the Colonial city, they were smitten by red brick buildings constructed in the Georgian style, an architectural movement from 1720-1840 that celebrated symmetry. Picture columns flanking a central entry, windows balanced on either side of the door and chimneys positioned on both sides of the house.

“I fell in love with the Georgian style of building,” Reed says. “From then on my goal was to own and live in an 18th-century home.”

 

The MacMillans preserve ties to Fairview’s agricultural history by keeping horses. Photograph by Ron DubickTHE ROAD TO THIS OLD HOUSE

Six years later, Katie got stuck in a traffic jam on U.S. 13 on her way to the beach. In search of an alternate route, she drove down Old State Road, just outside Odessa but with a Middletown postal address, where she spied a large Georgian house with a for sale sign outside.

The MacMillans immediately contacted the real estate agent, who told them they were too late. A contract had just been signed on the house, which had been vacant for more than five years.

“I was disappointed, but only a little bit, because we knew the house needed a lot of work,” Katie recalls.

Months later, the agent called back. The sale had fallen through. Were the MacMillans still interested?

Katie was less enthusiastic than her husband. But it didn’t take long for her to develop a bond with the old house.

“After one week, I felt at home, at ease and comfortable,” she recalls.

That said, the property required a monumental effort to undo the damage caused by years of neglect.

“The fields were so overgrown you couldn’t see two feet in front of you,” Katie says.

Inside, rain was pouring into a dilapidated second-floor bathroom.

“I closed the door and didn’t open it again for two years,” she says.

With so many projects on the to-do list, it was difficult to know where to begin. The MacMillans made a pragmatic choice. The house didn’t have a washer or dryer—or even hookups for them in the basement. So they installed a second-floor laundry room.

 

 Raised-panel cupboards flank the fireplace in the dining room. Photograph by Ron DubickHISTORIC GUIDELINES

In establishing a comprehensive game plan, the couple also consulted the “Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties,” published by the National Parks Service. The government recommends choosing one of four approaches: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration or reconstruction.

Because their home suffered from deferred maintenance, the MacMillans focused on rehabilitation, a strategy that emphasizes retaining and repairing of historic materials, with some latitude for replacement because the property is deteriorated.

In the years before the Internet, they relied on the printed word for insights and information.

“We read books: how to wire, how to do plumbing, how to plaster,” Katie says. “You just can’t go into a room and paint something. It has got to be scraped. It has got to be sanded.”

An important part of their studies involved learning to take on projects without risking their personal safety.

“You really must know how to turn the water supply off before repairing a broken pipe and know how to shut off the power before replacing a broken electrical outlet,” Reed says.

Over the years, the MacMillans restored plaster walls, upgraded plumbing, installed a picket fence around the garden and took on myriad other tasks.

“I can hit a nail pretty good now,” Reed says.

One of their largest undertakings was stabilizing the foundation of a two-story addition that had shifted over time, as witnessed by a slope in the floor.

“We always know where to find the dog’s ball because it rolls to the back wall,” Katie says.

They decorated the house with furniture that is traditional in feeling instead of 18th-century antiques. Reed notes that people tend to steer clear of rooms that are filled with precious pieces.

At Fairview, the family enjoys each and every room.

 

Stunning millwork defines 10-foot ceilings. Photograph by Ron DubickTO THE MANOR BORN

Even at its worst, the house retained its sense of grandeur. Opulent dentil moldings punctuate the roofline. Solid wood shutters on the first story are outfitted with locks for security. The louvered shutters on the second-story windows enable air to flow into bedrooms. Many of the 12-over-12 windows maintain the wavy panes of glass installed nearly two and a half centuries ago.

Behind the house is a three-seater outhouse, the ultimate in pre-plumbing luxury. On humid summer days, you can detect the scent of a wood fire in the smokehouse.

Inside, the front door retains its original, massive lockbox. Ten-foot ceilings are defined with lavish moldings, a sign of the prosperity of the original owner, Maj. James Moore. After being held prisoner for two years during the Revolutionary War, he went on to grow grain on 171 acres. He founded a newspaper.

Spacious raised-panel cupboards flank the fireplaces in both the living room and the dining room. Moore would have used cupboards to tuck away china and other possessions befitting a man of means. The MacMillans use the cupboards to store electronics and Mary’s toys.

“This house had built-in stereo cabinets way ahead of its time,” Katie says.

Upstairs, the master bedroom boasts an adjoining dressing room. The bedrooms are outfitted with large closets, a rarity in Colonial days.

Records indicate that Moore owned as least one slave, a manservant who lived in the house. His room is spare and small, in contrast to the spacious proportions and extravagant finishes in the rest of the house. The ceiling is just over 6 feet high.

“The only reason we can think of is that having a low ceiling made the room easier to heat,” Katie says.

Originally, the kitchen was separate from the main house, which reduced the risk of fire. Over the years, a connecting room was constructed between the house and the kitchen, which is now a room for casual dining.

The MacMillans inherited a tired kitchen that had last been updated in the 1960s. It needed to be torn out and done over, which presented the couple with a restoration dilemma.

Should they knock down walls to make the kitchen larger and brighter? Or should they stay within the footprint and install a kitchen that was in keeping with the style and age of their home?

“In the end, we decided to maintain the integrity of the house,” Katie says.

 

The front door retains the original lock and key. Photograph by Ron DubickJUST RIGHT

Most of the land was sold off generations ago. Wheat fields have been supplanted by a bumper crop of housing.

Fairview was spared from development due to its status as a home on the National Register of Historic Places. The 3.5 acres that remain provide room for gardens, Mary’s playhouse and a barn that is home to Wally, an Appaloosa saddle horse, and Rye, a miniature horse the family adopted through an equine rescue service.

“We have lots of privacy, as well as nice neighbors, so it’s just right,” Katie says.

The gardens have sprouted a cornucopia of artifacts left by previous residents of Fairview. Among the finds: broken pottery, old bottles, nails, hinges, a stirrup iron and the stone foundation of a long-gone outbuilding.

“Every time we dig a new garden we pull up treasures,” she says.

 

Get the Look
  • With some exceptions, most pieces of furniture  are antique in feeling, though not in age. Photograph by Ron DubickWalls can talk—and homeowners should listen. Look to the original architecture for input in renovating an old house. The MacMillans decided not to knock down walls during a kitchen project in order to maintain the integrity of the property.
  • It’s a home, not a museum. The MacMillans have decorated their house with family pieces and other furniture they have collected over the years rather than antiques that require extra special care.
  • Prioritize your list of projects. Fairview had lots of history but no laundry room. Installing a washer and dryer was at the top of Katie MacMillan’s to-do list.
  • Channel your inner handyman. The MacMillans did nearly all the rehabilitation work on their home themselves. They learned new skills by reading how-to books.
  • Harken to history. Fairview was once a large farm. Only a few acres remain, but the current owners maintain that tie to agriculture by keeping horses.
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Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
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1200 N DuPont Highway
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View map »

More information

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Cost: Free

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The Station Gallery
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View map »


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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
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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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View map »


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More information

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Cost: $0-14

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Cost: Free

Where:
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Art, the fourth element of hip-hop, comes alive for enthusiasts of both art and hip-hop. Let your inner creativity and love for hip-hop hit the canvas. "All I Need" is...

Cost: $40

Where:
Humpty's Dumplings
277 N Keswick Ave
Glenside, PA  19038
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Sponsor: Creative Paint Nites
Telephone: 267-312-8339
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

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