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Homes With A History

Renewed, rehabbed, or otherwise, there is an unmistakable charm in the enduring homes from a bygone era.

by Cheryl M. Keyser + photos courtesy of Gary Gestson

Washington County, and in particular Hagerstown, is fortunate not only to have a goodly supply of homes on the Historic National Registry (200 and counting) but also dwellings which are still lived in and gifted with the warmth of the homeowners who are quite conscious of their responsibilities as caretakers of the past.

“Each one of these houses tells a story,” says Linda Irvin Craig, executive director of the 1825 Miller House, headquarters of the Washington County Historical Society. “A survey was done of all the historic sites in the state of Maryland and indicated on a map with pink dots. Washington County was the pinkest in the state.”

Many of these homes are passed everyday with little notice as they blend inconspicuously into the surrounding environment, yet they retain the dignity and elegance so in contrast with contemporary housing.

Everyone knows the Long Meadow Shopping Center to the north of Hagerstown, but many miss the striking Long Meadows house (c. 1775) that sits back about 400 feet from Marsh Pike. Its six dormers sprouting from the roof on the front side of the house and the twin double chimneys standing like sentinels are unmistakable.

The house is on the National Register of Historic Places not only for its age and architecture, but also for its association with Thomas Cresap (c. 1702 - C. 1790) who fought in the early colonial wars and was a representative to the Maryland Legislature. In 1739, he was granted 400 acres of land, which he named Long Meadows.

Originally he built a small stone cottage with a fireplace and divider downstairs which are the only remaining links to the initial arrangement of the space. A frame house was later built onto this structure, and then torn down in the 1840s for a Greek Revival-styled home to be put in its place. “Interestingly, the locks were manufactured in England,” says present owner, retired Judge Daniel Moylan. “On the rim is a brass plate which shows the reigning monarch at that time.”

In 1908, after a fire, then owner, Mrs. Young, one of four generations of Young’s who owned the house, decided to do more than just replace the house the way it was. “She hired Harry Yessler to do extensive remodeling, increasing the second story with a gambrel roof, enhancing it with dormers on the front and back. Each window has a column on the side with a capital and base,” says Daniel. In 1936 four rooms were added onto the back of the small cottage, as was an enclosed open porch. “Now the central hall of the house, with its southern exposure, receives the breezes of the summer,” he adds.

Daniel bought the house in 1974, “Not because of its historic value, but just because we liked it and my father-in-law said he would help with any necessary do-it-yourself projects,” he says. “But there were a lot of things we did not do because we did not want to interfere with the integrity of the house.”

This theme of retaining the uniqueness of a home yet adjusting it to modern day comfort is common among historic homeowners. The Clara Tice House (c. 1894) on N. Potomac Street, named for the woman who built it, has seen some renovations, “but not huge things,” says present owner Carol Schofield.

Sitting on a rise over the street, the house is notable for its light gray brick with blue shutters and white trim. “It is about 3,000 square feet and sits on a half acre of ground. We originally planned to do a room a month, but in the end we did nothing more major than some necessary repairs. For the first ten years, we just replaced things. However, my husband and a friend did discover a beautiful fireplace that had been plastered over.” Since that discovery, she has renovated both of the full baths on the second floor, made a fifth bedroom into storage space, and put in a patio with an arbor.

Located in the historic downtown district of Hagerstown, where many prominent business and community leaders once lived, any changes to the house had to be approved. “We were quite fortunate in living here at a time when the city instituted a Home Pride Loan which provided money for improvements. If we continued to live in the house for another five years, the loan would be forgiven,” she says. With this money they were able to update the electricity, do necessary plumbing, follow lead abatement procedures for the windows, and replace a column on the front of the house, which had been removed sometime in the past. In the process, Carol found a New York Times dating back to 1894 glued into a closet behind a flight of stairs, providing additional confirmation as to the date of construction.

This wonderful Victorian still retains much of its grandeur, both inside and out. It features spacious rooms, high ceilings, and two fireplaces. Some of the original detailing can still be found, such as the built-in china closet in the dining room.

Debbie Briggs who owns the Ezra Newcomer House (c. 1899) on S. Potomac, faced a different series of problems in her home. Its dual air conditioners — a rarity in a historic home, were already in place when she bought the house in October 2012. And for a home in the middle of downtown, the ten-car parking lot was a nice surprise. “I was not looking for a historic home,” she says, “It just came up in my search. The work and the craftsmanship were so beautiful I just wanted it.”

The front door opens onto a stunning vestibule and entryway all clad in wood, leading from a small, partially enclosed landing to the upper floor — wood paneled all the way. Outside is a funky Queen Anne turret, adding a touch of distinction to its dormer neighbor. The eaves of the house and the turret are embellished with distinctive carving, echoed in the first floor crescent-shaped window. Due to an illness, she has made only a few modifications.

Outside of Hagerstown city limits are two historic homes that are carefully tended to by their owners. The Jacob Funk House in Funkstown (c. 1769) and the Daniel Donnelly House (c.1833) outside of Williamsport.

Jacob Funk was the town’s founder and served in the Maryland House of Delegates while living in this house that was built for especially for him. After he moved to Kentucky, the house was converted into South’s Hotel where it is believed abolitionist John Brown stayed.

Many years later, Ingrid Kevorkian grew up in the house, which was in her family for 60 years. The two-story stone, 7,000 square foot house is a “typical colonial house,” she says. It had been chopped up into apartments, one of which her parents rented until they later bought the house. “My father was a stonemason and as he went about restoring the house we would live in different areas as he did the necessary work,” she adds. “Two of the stone fireplaces were covered over and my father was able to restore them.”

The Daniel Donnelly House outside of Williamsport is considered a historic Civil War site where the Battle of Falling Waters was fought. It sits on 16 acres near an exit to Route 81.

Donnelly was a lawyer, on the Chesapeake and Ohio Commission, and a delegate to the Maryland House of Representatives. He settled on this piece of land, which owner Melissa Cooperson defines as “a little finger of land,” surrounded by the Potomac River. “The house is Federal style, simple but elegant. Inside the rooms are large with high ceilings and big windows, but not fancy,” says Melissa.

As is the case for a number of these homes, the Donnelly House is on the National Register of Historic Places. The current owners have also settled a historic easement on the property so it can’t be developed in the future, and hired an expert to authenticate their claim to the National Register. This laborious task entailed tracking a history of the house from its establishment to the present, along with corresponding documentation. The National Register establishes four criteria eligibility, one of which is rather vague. It requires among other things, that a property have the “potential” to provide a better understanding of the past. The home can have only minimal alterations and, of course, the “inevitable” committee must review it for approval.

“We did intend to buy an old house, and having a historic one only made it better,” says Melissa. The family had lived in Bethesda, Md. for many years and bought the house as a weekend retreat while their children were in school — a courageous move considering the rough shape the house was in. “We spent the first two years cutting back vegetation, and then we had problems with pipes bursting, removing insulation due to mold, and falling chimneys and gutters.” Although they had the house for 12 years, they’ve only been able to live in it for three due the delays in getting the interior up to snuff.

Older homes come with their share of problems — doors and windows that are not level, old wiring, floors that sag, chimneys that have to be jacked up — all of which mean more challenges. But there is another problem that is largely overlooked — unexpected visitors. Some days an owner will look out a window and see someone peering back at them, or a group walking around their property. “I came home one day and found people in my vegetable garden,” says Melissa. And because it is a battle site they come with their histories and guidebooks and roam the grounds.

The key to dealing with everything from visitors to repairs is best summed up in one word — CHARM — the essence of the desirability of a historic home.

Washington County holds a wealth of historic places. To see the entire list, go to the National Register Listing for Maryland online. Three of the homes noted here — Long Meadows, the Jacob Funk House, and the Donnelly House — are included in the information on this site as well as a host of additional archeological and heritage information.