116 – Spring Meadow Farm, circa 1790, south of Clear Spring, MD

South from Clear Spring, Big Pool Road curls through the countryside, narrows as it crosses a one-lane bridge, and approaches the imposing 44 foot tall gable end of a stone house looming on the left side of the road. The house faces northwest and sits close to the road on land that drops steeply down to a small stream that emerges from under it. Beside this meander is a small stone springhouse; and in back of it, on tall metal posts, is a large yellow tank. A pump motor drones periodically, filling the tank from an intake pipe that has been plunged into the small opening at the base of the house. Water trucks pull in randomly to fill their tankers on the honor system. This is the Big Spring, really a hydraulic well, an underground river, emerging from a cave beneath the house at a steady 1,300 gallons each minute and a chilly 49 degrees. Regardless of the weather–rain, drought, heat or cold–these numbers vary almost not at all.

Doug and Mary Frances Black call their 80 acres Spring Meadow Farm now, but its dominant feature has always been the big spring. In 1739, Evan Shelby acquired a warrant for 150 acres to be named The Big Spring. It called for the metes and bounds to begin at the head of this spring. Almost three years later, Shelby was issued a patent for this land. He then sold the land to Hugh Gilliland, farmer, in 1742 for £75. In 1750 Hugh sold this same land to James Gilliland for £56, along with a second parcel, Bealls Fort, that also originated near the mouth of the spring. This 50 acres cost £80.3, and Evan Shelby had also patented it.

In 1754 James Gilliland and other inhabitants of Frederick County petitioned the court …Several of your petitioners labour under great hardships for want of a road being laid out to said Gillilands Mill and therefore humbly pray Your Worships to be pleased to grant them a road to be laid out at the west line of a place called Flaggy Meadows and at a road already cleared by the inhabitants of Pensilvania for to come to said mill, their mill being generally frozen up in the winter. 

James Gilliland apparently operated a mill along the run flowing south from the forceful springhead, which never freezes in winter months.

It isn’t known if the road was built; but, on November 24, 1755, James Gilliland sold a parcel of 150 acres called The Big Spring to Adam Easter for £130 Maryland currency. A year later, Fort Frederick, with a garrison of about 200 men, was completed, creating a ready source of customers for the mill.

In 1781, The Big Spring was transferred to Simon Bowman. It is unclear whether Bowman owned the property as an heir through his wife or as executor of his father-in-law’s estate. In 1768, Simon Bowman had purchased Lot 23 in Elizabeth Town from Jonathan Hager; so the Bowmans probably lived there, not at the Big Spring.

In 1782, a land commission was requested to arbitrate a dispute over the boundary lines of The Big Spring. Several of the depositions state that the point of beginning for the land tract was a white oak tree near Adam Easter’s house about twenty perches [330 feet] below the Big Spring. These depositions would indicate that as of 1782 no house existed at the spring. A 1791 advertisement placed by Simon Bowman reads, …The subscriber offers for Sale, on easy and moderate Terms, That well known Tract of 360 Acres of Land, called Big Spring…on the premises are two dwelling houses, orchard, and other improvements, and is very suitable for any kind of public business, being 13 miles from Hagerstown, and directly on the road to Fort Cumberland, there being now a tavern kept thereat. Here were two houses, one probably used as the tavern.

 In 1792, Bowman resurveyed all of his holdings including The Big Spring parcel into one tract of 366 and 3/4 acres called Lads & Lassies. The following year Bowman sold this to Roland Chambers for £1,800. The deed described Chambers as living on the property at the time. A 1794 map of Washington County shows a tavern at the head of the spring, so Chambers must have remained in that business.

In 1803, Chambers sold 350 acres for £3,300 to Peter Harbine of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who then passed it to Daniel Harbine of Washington County for £1,000. An 1809 ad in the Maryland Herald mentions a public sale at Daniel Harbine’s Tavern at The Big Spring. The following year, this notice appeared in the newspaper:

BIG SPRING TAVERN

JAMES KIRKPATRICK,

RESPECTFULLY informs his friends and the public in general that he has taken that commodious house formerly occupied by Mr. Rowland Chambers, and lately by Mr. Daniel Harbine as a Tavern, at the Big Spring, about 14 miles from Hagerstown, and 16 from Hancock-town on the road leading to Cumberland; where he is prepared in every respect to entertain and accommodate travellers & others in the best manner. He assures the public that nothing in his power shall be wanting to render entire satisfaction to all those who may please to call on him. And as he is a new beginner in the public sphere of life, he hopes for the support of an indulgent and generous public so long as he merits their countenance.

Washington county, March 29, 1810

N. B. Wagoners can be accommodated with Hay, Oats and Chopped Rye, on reasonable terms.

Around 1822, the Bank Road was being constructed through Clear Spring on the way from Baltimore to Cumberland and the National Pike, diverting travelers to a route north of the tavern. On January 8, 1822, tavern equipment was sold at Kirkpatrick’s Tavern, and it was closed.

All or part of the stone section of the existing house was probably this tavern. Built of uncoursed local fieldstone, without decorative stonework at the lintels, this three-bay section stands three-and-one-half stories high on its east and south façades. A large double door opens at ground level on the east gable end. At the rear of this section is a tall stone foundation, which now holds a concrete patio. At one time, this was a summer kitchen adjoining the rear of the house. It was frame, and set on this high stone cellar with a huge service fireplace. Doug Black, the present owner, removed the dilapidated frame part of the kitchen and filled in the stone part so that he could lay the cement slab over the top, forming the rear porch.

About 1890, a two-bay frame addition was attached to the west gable end. It was probably at this same time that the windows in the stone section were replaced with two-over-two sashes and the roof was replaced.

The main entrance is in the center of the five bays, the westernmost bay of the stone section. This structure has a center hall, four-room plan home, with each of the rooms roughly eighteen feet square. This farmhouse plan is very common in Western Maryland and is frequently called Rural Georgian.

The front porch shelters the center three bays and has scroll-cut brackets at the posts and a shallow hip roof. The 42-inch wide front door has five horizontal panels and opens beneath a single-light transom with old wavy glass. At the other end of this hall, set in a heavy, pegged frame, is an original six-panel door that leads out onto the modern porch.

The staircase has delicate, square balusters and simple square newel posts. The steps are decorated with scroll-cut brackets. To the left of the main entrance, the living room still retains its lovely original mantel with patterns of parallel beading. Much of the interior of the house has been modernized. Carpet covers the pine floors of most of the house and even hides the walnut floor in one of the bedrooms upstairs.

The basement of the house is under the stone section only and is built among bedrock outcrops. The upper structure is supported by a summer beam held by a ten inch post. The attic stairs rise from a batten door and are enclosed by broad, beaded, hand-planed board walls. Rafters are hand-hewn and joined with pegs. The floor is made of wide, random-width pine boards.

The old place had not been kept up for years before Doug and Mary Frances Black purchased it in 1982. Tons of ash had to be removed from the east side of the building where it had been tossed for decades. Wiring had to be upgraded, walls repaired and systems added. When Doug did the plumbing, he drilled a nine foot deep well directly into the big spring so that they can enjoy the cool, pure water that has flowed from the spring for over 200 years. Many changes have occurred over the years, but the house is still a lovely place to live, and the spring still supplies pure drinking water for many in the area.

Note: Many thanks to Sandra Izer who did the research for this article.

This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, June 27,1999 as the 116th in the series.