136 – Mount Pleasant, circa 1790, Sharpsburg, MD
On the edge of Sharpsburg, Chapline Street drifts along a row of small houses, many dating from the early settlement of the village. At the edge of town, the road changes name and begins its descent to the Potomac River through gathering woodlands. On the right, a lane, marked against trespass, disappears among trees and undergrowth as it climbs to a bluff above the river. Huge boxwoods border the woods around a broad clearing atop the bluff; and at the far side of the opening appears a magnificent 18th century Georgian house built on a small, early patent called Norris’s Seat.
The main façade of this five-bay brick house is laid in Flemish bond with a two-step brick water table just above the stone foundation. An elaborate, white-painted, pedimented architrave surrounds the center entrance and small, wooden pediments top the windows on the first floor level. Elegant pierced moldings decorate these features as well as the cornice beneath the hip roof. Tall, corbeled chimneys rise inside either side wall. A stone addition attaches to the left, south of the main block. The ground slopes away at the rear and left of the house making the foundation taller on these sides. The back façade that faces the river has a portico with a roof balustrade. This portico has three levels: the cellar level with a stone foundation that curves back to double doors opening into the cellar, the main floor and the balustraded roof that is accessed through a large jib window on the second floor hall.
A white marble stoop lies before the main entrance. This door opens into a central hall. At the end of this hall, a batten door, hung on strap hinges, opens onto the back portico. The cornice, central medallion and surrounding oval on the hall ceiling are formed in drawn plaster. Three turned balusters stand on each step of the staircase, and its handrail turns gracefully into a volute. Moldings around doors and windows have crossettes and the wainscot going up the steps is a single, wide, hand-planed board.
To the right, a grained door leads into a formal sitting room. Again the wainscot is made of either one or two wide boards. The north wall, facing the door, is exquisitely paneled around the central fireplace. Arch-topped cupboards with butterfly shelves flank this fireplace. Original, hand-wrought, offset hinges allow these doors to open without having the hinges displayed on the faces of the doors; 18th century offset hinges are extremely rare.
A door under the stairs at the back of the hall enters the second room on the right. This room also has handsome paneling on the north wall, but in a different style. Here the doors flanking the fireplace are rectangular and the one closet has straight shelves while the other is fitted with a peg rail at the top, to hold hanging items.
On the left side of the hall, another grained door opens into a narrow dining room that is the full depth of the house. The fireplace is centered on the south wall and has a paneled overmantel with crossettes. Walls are covered in period wallpaper above the chair rail; and the room is dominated by a long, narrow, period-style table that fits the room perfectly. Beyond the dining room, in the stone wing, is the kitchen. Modern cupboards and counters fit the old spaces and the original fireplace with its wasp-waist mantel surround dominates the space.
The second floor hall is narrower than the first, giving the four rooms more space. The north rooms on this floor also have paneled north walls, with moldings in each of the rooms different from the others. Each of the upper rooms has a large closet with shelves on one side and a smaller cupboard on the other side of the fireplace. The shallow mantelshelves then extend above this cupboard to the inner walls of the rooms.
The southeast bedroom has a much larger fireplace with step-back sides in the firebox, yet another 18th century feature. The other bedroom in the southwest corner had no fireplace and has been converted into an elegant bathroom.
Steep steps rise to the attic from behind a batten door in the upper hall. The steep hip roof slopes in on all sides, held by hand-hewn timbers. A list is written on a small wall in smeared red chalk, tantalizingly indecipherable. Only the date, 1790, is clear enough to read.
The cellar can be entered both from the doors under the portico on the west side of the house and from stairs inside. The plaster is removed from part of the wall just inside this door to reveal the studs placed flat rather than perpendicular. This 18th century feature allows the walls to be much thinner than more recent ones. On the outer wall of the stone wing is a large cooking fireplace with its original crane still in place. Another cooking fireplace stands in the brick section of the cellar under the dining room. This part of the cellar has three massive stone constructions whose purpose is not readily apparent. Were these added later as buttresses for the foundation?
How did this remarkable home, so typical of grand 18th century Tidewater architecture, come to be built on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River and who built it? For many years, this home has been believed to be the home of the founder of Sharpsburg, Joseph Chapline, Sr., but the records tell a different story.
Some members of the Chapline family, English gentry, immigrated to America in 1622 and were planters in the Tidewater area of Maryland. Joseph Chapline was born in 1707 on his father’s plantation southeast of present Washington, D.C. When he returned in 1729, after being educated in England, he settled again at his father’s home, but began patenting and purchasing property in what is now Washington County within five years. By 1741, he had built a modest log plantation home on a tract called Rush Bottom located on the north side of present-day Route 34 just west of Sharpsburg. In 1742, he married Ruhemah, daughter of Reverend William Williams. Nine children were born to the Chaplines between 1743 and 1760.
On October 17, 1740, William Norris patented a 65 acre parcel of land known as Norris’s Seat, a tract strategically located at the apex of one of the numerous oxbows of the Potomac River. Norris was among the first to patent land in what was later Washington County. Norris selected his parcel wisely, for within two years the Sprigg family had patented all the land surrounding Norris’s Seat beginning with a large parcel of 724 acres named Pile’s Delight to the north. In 1760, Joseph Chapline began purchasing parts of Pile’s Delight from the Sprigg Family. By 1764, Chapline had acquired almost all the Sprigg family holdings, and he finally bought Norris’s Seat for £47 on the fifth of April. The low purchase price indicates the parcel had no significant improvements, and William Norris continued to live there, as indicated by Chapline’s will.
Joseph Chapline, Sr.’s 1768 will left …all that Tract of Land called Joe’s Lott that lyes on the west side of Bigg Anteatum together with the town of Sharpsburgh with all the profits and advantages thereunto belonging, except such Lotts as I shall see fitt to give my other children, and also one tract of Land called Norris’s Seat with the Resurvey thereon, and also the land contained in the Resurvey in the addition to Piles Delight conveyed to me by James Sprigg that lyes on the north side of a line drawn East and West from the River Potomack within two perches south of the Spring where William Norris now lives… to his son Joseph Chapline, Jr., …Norris’s Seat…, still occupied by William Norris, seems almost a throwaway, with no expansion or explanation added, as the other tracts have. This is another indication that no significant structure existed at that time. The will goes on to …bequeath to my son Jeremiah Chapline my dwelling Plantation whereon I now dwell… If Chapline Sr. had built Mount Pleasant, surely he would have been living in it.
Joseph Chapline, Sr., died in 1769. The following year, Joseph Jr. married Mary Ann Christian Abigail Ferguson. On May 15, 1789, Joseph Chapline, Jr., applied to the land office in Annapolis for a resurvey of his lands into a single tract he wished to be known as Mount Pleasant, and this patent for 2,575 acres was received on July 15, 1791.
The first record of a substantial structure on Mount Pleasant occurs in 1790 when Joseph Chapline, Jr., hurriedly created a map of the area and sent it to President George Washington for consideration as our nation’s capitol. This map clearly shows the curves of the Potomac River, the towns of Sharpsburg, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and Chapline’s large house near the river. This evidence narrows the construction date of the house from 1770 to 1790.
Joseph Chapline, Jr., and his wife had no children, but other family members filled their home. Records indicate that Joseph’s two spinster sisters Sarah and Jane lived with them, and an 1819 notice placed by Joseph’s nephew, Dr. J. J. Hays that …RESPECTFULLY offers his professional services in the Practice of Medicine, Surgery, &c. to the citizens of Sharpsburg and lower part of Washington county generally…, indicates that Dr. Hays and his family were residing at Mount Pleasant as well.
Just a few months before his death in 1821 Joseph Chapline Jr., sold 1,000 acres of Mount Pleasant, including the house, to his nephew Dr. Hayes for $1,000; and his will reaffirmed this sale. Dr. Hayes died shortly after Chapline; his widow and son inherited the property. In 1835, Sophia Pottenger Chapline Merrick sold Mount Pleasant to Phillip Grove.
Mount Pleasant had been out of the Chapline family for 123 years when Leon and Victorine Mumma Morgan purchased it from Clara F. Line in 1958. Victorine Morgan was a direct descendant of Joseph Chapline’s son, Jeremiah. She was a teacher and her husband dealt in antiques. Both had the interest and the knowledge to tackle the enormous job ahead. Little had been done to the house over the years and most of the original fabric remained. It had neither electricity nor central heat and the roof needed replacing. Bonnard, son of the new owners, was home from college that first summer and helped with the reconstruction of the roof while his parents handled more skilled work.
Years of patient restoration finally reclaimed the magnificent house. When the elder Morgans died, the house remained empty for many years until Bonnard Morgan, Jr., his wife Leah and their two children made it their home. Again, restoration projects had to be undertaken, and the young couple began to collect appropriate pieces to furnish their home. The family continues to work at preserving the outbuildings.
The Morgan family is fiercely protective of the home and its history and they cherish its significance to their family. Bonnard Sr. has had historic preservation easements placed on the structures in an effort to forever protect the treasure that came so close to being lost. Mount Pleasant is the Morgan family’s link with their past and their path to the future.
Note: Sandra Izer and Bonnard Morgan did the extensive research for this article.
This article was scheduled to appear in the Herald-Mail as the 136th article in the series, but was never printed.