How a Maryland couple turned a 1939 schoolhouse into a one-of-a-kind home

This schoolhouse-turned-house is a hidden treasure on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The couple who bought the building in 1987 gave it new life with second-hand finds

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When Jean Sneed and her husband bought an old schoolhouse on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, it had no windows, a leaky roof and hallways flooded with an inch of water.

They bought the 1939 schoolhouse in Secretary, Maryland, in 1987 for $35,000.

Over the course of more than three decades, Jean and Carroll Sneed transformed the weathered schoolhouse into a one-of-a-kind home using thrift shop finds and antiques.

“We bought everything from a flea market or a yard sale because we never had any money … And we scavenged around for everything, and this is what it turned out to be,” Sneed, 85, said with a smile.

On a tour of the vibrant home with 12-foot ceilings, Sneed told News4 about the renovations and shared memories of her life with her husband, who died in 2018.

Because the schoolhouse would require decades of work, Sneed said it was her husband’s idea for them to move in shortly after they bought the building. This kept them motivated to continue the work as often as possible, she said.
The dining room and kitchen areas were once the school's file room and principal's office, Sneed said.

Thrift store finds and a 1960s bathtub discovered in a field

Inside the converted schoolhouse, every detail seems to have a story.

In the bathroom, Sneed tells about finding the 1960s bathtub abandoned in a field. Pointing at a chandelier, she recalls finding it for $150 at an antique shop. It once hung in Baltimore's Lyric opera house, the seller said.

This chandelier in Sneed's living room once hung in an opera house.

The couple got a 300-pound bronze door from the B&O Railroad Headquarters Building by trading a stained-glass window they had.

A yellow tufted sofa once sat in a hotel lobby. A mirror found in a flea market came from a department store display. A dark-wood structure that was originally a church entryway.

Other items were sold from the Lord Baltimore Hotel.

Now, the church entryway towers over a door in the home. The couple bought it from a Baltimore salvage shop and cut 2 feet off of the bottom so it would fit.

'You really liked that lamp. ... I'll make you one'

Sneed credited her husband for much of the renovation and repair work. Carroll Sneed made many things for their home by hand, including a purple stained-glass window with a blue-and-white peacock, mirror installations on the ceiling, pink floral wallpaper and Sneed’s favorite piece – a lamp decorated with glass fruit.

“On the way home [from an antique shop] Hubby said to me, ‘You really liked that lamp, didn't you?' and I said, ‘Yes,’” Sneed recalled. “He said, ‘I'll make you one.’ So, he made me that lamp."

The glass fruit lamp sits on top of a table that Carroll Sneed also made. He built the table by stacking two coffee tables on top of each other to resemble a stereo stand. Sneed said she covered the middle section with a curtain to finish the piece.
This photo of the couple sits in a gold frame on Sneed's bedside table.

Sneed said her husband was new to doing renovation work and had worked for General Motors.

“He was remarkable,” she said.

The bathroom includes a $5 waterfall spigot from a salvage shop, a bidet found at an auction and a purple chandelier from Paris, bought at an antique shop.

“Hubby built my bathroom for me out of those pieces,” Sneed said.

The bathroom ceiling has another unique feature: crown molding that Carroll Sneed made using picture frames.

With her husband no longer around to work on renovations, Sneed hired help to replace beams and flooring.

'It's just perfect'

The Sneeds fought hard to create the home of their dreams.

The couple initially struggled to get a loan to buy the building. They eventually were able to secure one for 10%.

Sneed recalled driving home and asking her husband what he would have done if they had been turned down for a mortgage again.

“He said, ‘I would have offered them 12%, 14, whatever it [would have taken] to get the building,'" she said.

Sneed said living in the converted schoolhouse continues to bring her joy.

"It's my favorite spot. It's just perfect. And Hubby did it exactly the way I like everything, and he said, ‘I did it just for her,’” she said.

“There's nothing here that looks like a man. It's all the way I would like it,” she added.

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