An architectural diamond on Salisbury's Lemon Hill

John B. Parsons Home is part of holiday tour

By Brice Stump
Posted 11/23/22

A unique architectural gem of Salisbury will be featured during the Holiday House Tour of Newtown Historic District in Salisbury. The one-day event, set for Dec. 4, will showcase for the first time …

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An architectural diamond on Salisbury's Lemon Hill

John B. Parsons Home is part of holiday tour


A unique architectural gem of Salisbury will be featured during the Holiday House Tour of Newtown Historic District in Salisbury. The one-day event, set for Dec. 4, will showcase for the first time the John B. Parsons Home on historic Lemon Hill.

Only several houses on “Millionaire’s Row” (Camden Avenue) and in Newtown can lay claim to the same quality of accents in wood and glasses  as found in this all-wood centerpiece of the John B. Parsons Home complex.

This home, on Lemon Hill (correct spelling Is Lemmon after Dr. Robert Lemmon in 1798), built in the Colonial Revival style, was a wedding present of Gov. and Mrs. E. E. Jackson to their oldest daughter, Margaret.

She and the Rev. Alvin J. Vanderbogart, rector of St Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Salisbury, were married in June, 1898.

Jackson had purchased the property, formerly owned by E. Stanley Toadvine, following a fire at Toadvine’s Lemon Hill site that destroyed his home that may have dated to the 18th century. His home was described as “one of the most beautiful and attractive in Salisbury.” Toadvine, a Princeton graduate in 1869, and local farmer, had served in the Maryland Senate.

Gov. Jackson acquired the property in 1901, and conveyed title to the property to his daughter in 1902. Construction began in October 1904.

According to the Wicomico News, the house was destined to be “one of the handsomest in Salisbury.”

The most skilled artisans and craftsmen in the Wicomico County area created a work of art in wood and glass.

The downstairs rooms have 11-foot-high ceilings, and before the “open floor plan” became vogue in recent years, Mrs. Vanderbogart opted for two sets of heavy, all-wood pocket doors, more than eight-feet-tall and each sliding door is about three-feet-wide and made up of seven decorative panels. In 1904, they were a must-have interior design element. When opened, by concealing them in walls, they successfully transform three rooms into one large space.

Even though fireplaces were no longer used as the primary source of heat when the house was constructed, six fireplaces and their decorative imposing mantels were key design elements.

When completed, the News reported, “Lemon Hill, probably the most historic site in Salisbury, with its colonial mansion, is one of the show spots of the town …”

There is something special here that is unseen. It is a comfortable, relaxed air, so quiet, cozy and soft, a genuine old-time Eastern Shore ambiance.

Since 1916, sunlight has sparkled and danced its way through clear glass prisms set in lead in the front entrance door sidelights and fanlight. For more than a century, shadows and light have come and gone as have the personalities of so many who have called this place home. And a home in essence it remains.

For Harrison Saunders, president and CEO of Harrison Senior Living, it’s a special place. “The staff and residents make it feel like a real family. Along with the landscaping and architecture, they create a sense of old Eastern Shore charm.”

Remarkably, this home’s exterior, so visually pleasing and inviting, has remained almost unchanged since its construction.

The assisted living facility now has 46 apartments for 49 residents and one community pet, a senior citizen rescue dog named Henry. It was home for women only until men were allowed to live here in 1976.

“When I was a boy and came here to visit my grandparents (James and Catherine Harrison, who managed the operation in the 1980s). This really was an open-air environment with so many opened windows and screened doors. And that grand porch, it just makes for a comfortable experience.

“I loved running around this huge building,” he said, a trace of excitement still in his voice. “This place kept me entertained for hours, visiting residents and even playing chess with a gentleman in the east breezeway. Visiting here was a fun experience, and the residents here were so kind to me.”

In 1924 a brick wing to the west was added, also in the Colonial Revival style. A similar wing was added to the east side in1928. Both also have draped ocular windows in their gables, a rare architectural element in Salisbury and the Lower Shore.

These wings feature the only two-story sunrooms of their kind in the city.

“I think one of the most unique facets of this building are  those two long glass breezeways and glass sunrooms. So unique in that they allow so much light in and create a connection to the outdoors and landscaping,” said Saunders, a former landscape architect. “These features are charming and not sterile, unlike so many new buildings that are designed and constructed today.”

 Before the days of air-conditioning, the abundance of windows allowed seasonal breezes to cool and warm interiors.

Both additions are connected to the main house by corridors, or hyphens, built of large windows, similar to those on the porches.

Those iconic windows are seldom open these days, but the abundance of glass is an eye-catcher. Staff members have struggled to count every individual piece of glass in this 33,500-square-foot complex. There’s at least 3,000 pieces.

In the spiral stairway to the second floor, the only stained glass window in the house — made of more than 615 pieces of colored and clear glass and cabochons — brightens wooden steps with warm natural light.

There is a tantalizing clue that this window may be an authentic creation of Tiffany Studios of New York. Mrs. Vanderbogart’s uncle, William H. Jackson, congressman and multi-millionaire, had underwritten much of the cost of building “Old Asbury M.E. Church,”

just a few yards from Lemon Hill. In it was a signed Tiffany stained glass window. He may have given the window in Lemon Hill to his niece and her husband as a wedding gift.

It is one of two unique interior architectural fixtures. A frieze above the parlor fireplace mantel is believed to capture the romanticized wedding of the young Vanderbogarts. Children celebrate the moment with musical instruments and frolic with floral garlands. A young man with wings, that may represent her groom as a guardian, guides her as they walk through a garden of flowers.

Bliss was not to last.

Married in 1898, she would be a widow in 1907 with the passing of her husband who was just 44 years old. In 1916, Mrs Vanderbogart sold the home to trustees of the John B. Parsons Home for the Aged, and bought Tony Tank Manor. She sold that property in 1956.

Moving to Baltimore, she died in 1962. According to a story in The Daily Times, Vanderbogart died in her apartment, where funeral services were also held.

 It marked the end of an era.

A painting of a young Margaret Vandertbogart still hangs in the home, as do portraits of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Parsons.

The philanthropist had supported a home for the elderly when Louisa Bratten Collier, and her friends, created the Salisbury Home for the Aged in 1903. She enlisted financial support from Persons which enabled them to acquire the landmark house on East Church and Naylor streets as the First John B. Parsons Home for the Aged. It has been long-known as the Hotel Ester.

Parsons, once described as a “penniless” boy from Salisbury, became wealthy as  president of the Union Traction Co. of Philadelphia.

 As a boy, Parsons had acquired a job in Salisbury, about 1866, and was “thrown out of employment and found himself penniless,” according to a newspaper story of 1916. “Residents of the small town made up a purse and sent him to Philadelphia, where he got his start as a streetcar conductor. From that position he rose to the head of the company.”

With the transfer of the Lemon Hill property to the group in 1916, Parsons also provided a trust fund at his death to benefit the operation.

His kindness and generosity is part of his legacy to Salisbury.

Susan Metzger Fountain, community liaison for the Harrison Senior Living group, said she is excited that the home will be showcased on the tour.

“We are simply thrilled to be a part of this tradition, and to meet folks taking the tour,” she said. “The John B. Parsons Home has been serving our community for more than a century, and that’s special.

People are in for a pleasant experience visiting us and we look forward to hosting them during this holiday tour.”

 Historic Poplar Hill mansion, nine period houses, and several churches are featured in the Holiday House Tour of Newtown Historic District.

Tickets for the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. event are available online through Eventbrite for $18. Tickets may be purchased the day of the tour at Poplar Hill Mansion, 117 Elizabeth St., in Salisbury, for $20.

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