Feature Editor and Photographer
February 10, 2022
Only a mile’s walk away from the sounds of late bells and the smell of dust on a chalkboard, lies the namesake of Atholton High School and the broader area.
The Athol manor was initially built as a two-and-a-half minister’s house for the Old Brick Church (known now as the Christ Church Guilford) from 1732-1740. The Old Brick Church attracted many influential 18th-century families including the Dorseys, Griffiths, Hamonds, Howards, and Washingtons (the namesakes of many areas in Howard County).
Though relatively small in comparison to the nearby Brightview Senior Community Living Center, the house displays detailed Georgian architecture and when it was originally built, the property overlooked 600 acres of land reserved by King Charles. The mansion also exhibits a strong portico element, emphasizing the entrance and inviting visitors into the historic mansion. The symmetrical design and elongated windows are further reflections of the Georgian architectural style.
When the property was bestowed to James MacGill, the first episcopal minister of the church, he named his house “Athol” in honor of his Scottish homeland. Scottish immigrant stone masons and enslaved persons contributed to the fine craftsmanship of the building, using expensive materials such as granite, oak, walnut, and pine. The stature and impressive architecture of the building signified the importance of the church in colonial America. The MacGill family maintained the property until the early 19th century when it was subdivided.
From the early 19th century until 1863 Alexander Hammond and his family occupied, owned, and maintained the mansion. During the middle of the civil war, Bradley S. Dixon purchased the then 147-acre property and maintained ownership until his death in 1897. Jeanie M. Gleason subsequently owned the property from 1897-1902 when she sold the property to John W. and Annie Stromberg. Stromberg purchased an additional 20 acres, expanding the property to over 150 acres. Between 1927 and 1952 the ownership of the property was changed several times, and the overall acreage was subsequently reduced. Tross and Edwina Dike purchased the manor sitting on a relatively small seven acres in 1952. The Dikes restored the mansion to its original appearance. In 2017, Brightview Senior Living purchased the property and the surrounding acreage. While senior housing construction was completed with relative ease, further renovation from the Dikes’ work proved to be a challenge.
The complete renovation occurred in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the construction team suffered numerous setbacks because of the supply chain shortage. As construction superintendent at Harkin Builders Erik Dahlen explained in the CFHoCo “Did You Know” podcast, supply chain issues severely limited Harkin Builders’ ability to restore wavy glass because “it’s a historical replica and apparently they couldn’t get that back in those days [before COVID].” The construction team also struggled to remove mold from the side of Manor. While power washing would have been a significantly more effective technique, it would have damaged the structure and Harkin Builders dedicated a team of five to manually remove the mold. In addition to labor and supply-chain challenges, Harkin Builders also struggled to install modern features into the then 287-year-old building.
The manor’s influence can be felt throughout the Columbia area like the Beatles’ influence on crazed young teenagers in the fifties. The impressive Georgian architecture inspired the design of the nearby Brightview Senior Living Community, the name of the surrounding district, and the name of the nearby high school.
When compared to the bustling sounds of Rockefeller Plaza, the iconic Hollywood boulevard, or the monumental Washington DC, Columbia can feel as dry and uninspiring as white bread. History, however, reframes the discussion away from the flashy parts of American society and towards the average American. What’s most remarkable about the Athol manor, lies not in its architectural details or even its craftsmanship, but instead lies in the fact that it became the cornerstone of a community. A community that remains as flawed and complex as it was in 1732, but –like the Athol manor itself– withstood the hardships of time.