Written by Amy Shuman, with Photography by John Shuman
On a secluded side street in Frostburg, facing Mt. Savage, sits the artful home of Beth and Joe Hoffman. It was built in the 1880’s, the first home on this street. A century later, the Hoffman family was living just two doors up the street and, and, as the family grew to include five children, space was at a premium. Ralph Bender, a neighbor, owned this nearby home, which housed two apartments. “Would you sell?” Joe asked him because he and Beth loved the neighborhood. “Of course,” Ralph said, and they struck a deal that day. Beth and Joe set about renovating this “nearly 3,000 square foot” structure in the fall of 1988, beginning with tearing off and stripping every inch of thickly painted oak trim throughout and insulating and re-plastering the home’s good bones. As they rehabbed the two stories back into a single family dwelling, they re-installed all the molding and stripped the front oak staircase. Working together for six years, Beth and Joe accomplished what few would be willing to tackle. The results are beautiful beyond words!
The entry way features a lovely staircase which is grounded with a hollow newel post. In historic homes, it is believed that the deed was placed in the newel when the mortgage was paid off. Across to the left is the library. When the home was new, this would have been the parlor. Gorgeous oak shelving, to match existing wood everywhere else, was milled in nearby Mt. Savage. A roll top desk and a trio of wine colored mohair overstuffed furniture, which looks like velveteen, furnish the room. When family gathers here over the holidays, the library becomes the music room, where relative musicians play guitar and flute. Several art pieces are special—an architectural rendering of historic buildings in Winchester by Beth’s father and a portrait of several kangaroos. The dining room and living room are now one large space, with a double fireplace the Hoffman’s designed placed center stage. Beth grained the wooden hearth to mimic Italian blue marble, a technique that is multi-layered and demands that feathers be used in the last coat to produce the grain.
Beth’s Mother’s collection of tea cups, a Maggie Pratt oil painting of an egret, a Gloria Mallory watercolor, Joe’s grandmother’s print of “The Little Captive” and a print from the St. Croix marketplace provide accents. Joe’s great uncle’s American Chestnut cabinet sits beside an oval white marble-topped table with family photos. Beth and Joe put even more sweat equity into the back of the house. They integrated several porches, a pantry and the existing kitchen into a great room, where they read or watch TV on comfy leather furniture, cook amidst stainless steel appliances balanced with a collection of antique crocks and freshly painted warm brown cabinets, and enjoy the “out-of-this-world” view. As they worked to refinish the molding in the kitchen, they found a love letter from the civil war era. “Old houses always tell stories,” Joe smiles. The bay window gives a hint of the grandeur beyond the deck. Two ponds filled with all sizes of bright orange and white koi fish are right at home amidst what Beth calls their “eclectic garden.” The spectacular view of rock gardens, huge trees, including hybrid American Chestnut and Chinese Chestnut and a special white pine that one of the Hoffman children brought home from school as a seedling, beautiful flowers and waterfalls make it very clear that there is no inch where a lawn mower is welcome.
Beth is in her fifteenth year as owner of the non-profit Appalachian Ballet Theatre Company, housed at her Cresaptown Studio. Students perform The Nutcracker each December and a full length ballet each spring. She was eleven years old when she started to dance. Trained at Shenandoah in Virginia, she wanted to provide opportunities for local people to share her love of ballet. She remembers carrying all the supplies, costumes and sets, with Joe’s help, to eight locations to feature The Nutcracker her first year. Beth’s daughter now teaches most classes at the studio, allowing Beth to work at Frostburg State University as Director of ADA/EEO Compliance and teach physics part-time. “We were only going to stay here a few years,” they smile. “I love the mountains and this place; it reminds me of my years living in the Rockies,” says Joe. “Snow??” laughs Beth, “The more, the better I like it!!!”
Beth and Joe appreciate art in all its forms. “Frostburg State University has become an integral part of the arts community here,” explains Joe, who has been Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for the last eight years. “It’s part of our mission to be regionally engaged. Now that we have a designated Arts District in Frostburg, there is a great opportunity to grow the arts, like Cumberland did so well. We have invested in refurbishing the Art Deco Style Lyric Theatre, opened the Center for Creative Writing on Main Street, which concentrates on programming for students and the community and support Mountain City Traditional Arts, a venue to showcase a variety of traditional Appalachian art forms.”
The Hoffmans delight in sharing stories of the animals in their paradise: the huge pair of frogs, “a bullfrog and his lady,” Joe explains, and the squirrels who have become “family.” Instead of attempting to banish the squirrels, the Hoffmans provide feeders for them to eat and play. Joe goes on, “We love our squirrels so much that they are allowed to live in a decorative eve that doesn’t connect to the inside of the house and raise their young there each year.” Beth and Joe have found that balance between working hard and relaxing effortlessly. Their koi fish symbolize “love and friendship.” How perfect!