Lewes — As the saying goes, home is where you make it. For Diane Stollenwerk and Maggie McIntosh, home away from home just happens to be a 132-year-old church in the Lewes Historic District. Having the most interesting house in a town full of historic homes isn’t easy, but the Baltimore couple may have just done it.
“We had no interest in buying a church,” Stollenwerk said. “It wasn’t like ‘let’s buy a church,’ but it was on the market, and how often do you get to poke around an old building?”
The church was in poor shape, but its history captured Stollenwerk and its potential is what sold McIntosh.
“Maggie is sitting down here in the pews and looking at this like a blank canvas,” Stollenwerk said. “It’s one big rectangle. We could do anything we wanted. And I’m up there in the choir loft poking around.”
Formerly home to St. Paul Church, the building was constructed in 1882 on West Fourth Street near the intersection of Park Street. It still has the church look on the outside, but as soon as you walk through the front doors, the historic facade gives way to a modern two-bedroom design with many unique spaces.
“It has such a peace to it,” Stollenwerk said. “It’s not necessarily because it’s quiet. There’s just something about it.”
The church was most recently used by the Methodist Church’s Lewes Charge. But it became too expensive to maintain, so it went on the market in 2011. It sat empty until Stollenwerk and McIntosh came along.
“She fell in love with the architectural possibilities and I fell in love with the history of it,” Stollenwerk said. “So I took 2,000 photos during the whole construction process because I was also aware that once we changed things, the history is gone.”
They donated the lectern and alter and local churches were invited to stop by and take other useful materials.
During the interior demolition process, they discovered beautiful ceiling framework hidden above the drop ceiling. The once-covered woodwork is now on display. Wood removed during construction was repurposed elsewhere in the home, including the beam that now serves as the fireplace mantel.
The bell tower, which was previously closed off, was reopened and a series of ship ladders and landings lead 28 feet up to a small 8-by-8 room, perfect for a morning cup of coffee or a glass of wine and a book. The room towers over nearby homes and provides a great view of historic Lewes. It’s Stollenwerk’s favorite feature.
The bell tower was added to the structure in 1930, along with an addition off the back. The original front facade of the church was covered up, but was discovered during the renovation process. Rather than knock it out and make it part of the open rafters, the couple kept the original front and display it as a nod to the church’s history.
With the pews and altar gone, the large open space was perfect for the couple’s open floor plan for the common areas – living room, kitchen and dining room. Taking advantage of unused space above the altar, a loft/ office space was created. It’s what the couple calls their proclamation location because it has a spectacular view over the entire first floor.
The basement was a mess when they found it, with mold all over the walls and original foundation.
“If you went down in the basement, it was terrible; it was horrible,” McIntosh said.
The couple transformed it into a spare bedroom and bathroom.
They put in a new floor, new drainage system, sandblasted the walls and layered the walls with a good sealant. Then to create enough head room for a bedroom, the back half was lifted two-and-a-half feet. The bedroom features the only room in the entire home that still has the same use as it did before – the bedroom closet.
“It was a closet then, and it’s a closet now,” Stollenwerk said.
The couple has opened their home to many people during the renovation process. They held an open house Jan. 1, and friends and loved ones wrote special messages on the framing before the walls were finished. Besides open houses, they say people often knock on the door and ask to take a tour, a request the couple often accepts.
“We were reading on the web about people who move into old churches, and something that happens is people just walk in,” she said.
McIntosh said they typically give two tours a weekend to a curious passerby.
“We’re very proud of it,” Stollenwerk said.
For those who’d rather not impose, the home can be toured during this year’s Christmas Tour, slated for Saturday, Dec. 6. Folks will not be allowed to climb to the bell tower, but the couple is anxious for the public to see what they’ve done with the place.
“We are very committed to doing whatever we can to support the historic preservation culture of the town,” Stollenwerk said.
Just as their home was nearing the finish line last month, a spark from exterior work ignited a small area under the siding, resulting in a lot of smoke. Lewes Fire Department was quick to respond and the damage was limited. The minor repairs needed should be complete well before the house tour next month.
McIntosh has been coming to the Cape Region for many years. She previously owned a home near Burton Pond near Long Neck.
“It was equidistance to leave that house and go to either Lewes or Rehoboth, but I found myself going to Lewes,” she said. “I found myself coming to Lewes to get a bite to eat or to go out for a drink with friends because it’s just what I like, which is a small town that has preserved its history.”
She was sold on living in Lewes. Stollenwerk was also in because she loves the history of the town.
They live full time in Baltimore, but spend most of the summer and as many weekends as possible in Lewes. McIntosh serves in the Maryland House of Delegates as the representative of Baltimore City’s 43rd District. She previously worked as a teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools and an adjunct instructor at Catonsville Community College.
Stollenwerk is the founder and president of StollenWerks Inc., a consulting firm focused on health policy. She is also co-founder of the Patient Voice Institute and a commissioner on the Maryland Health Care Commission.
If they ever decide to retire, they say their Lewes getaway would be a perfect fit.
“I would love to live down here full time,” Stollenwerk said.
It’s the perfect place to bring friends and family, McIntosh said.
“I have a friend from Baltimore who came here, and he has told me three times since that it’s just a quiet, peaceful, wonderful space,” she said. “And I’m glad, that’s what we wanted it to be.”