26 – Huckleberry Hall, circa 1787, north of Smithsburg, MD
In the rolling orchard country north of Smithsburg, Poplar Grove Road branches off from Durberry and descends a gentle grade into a broad plain cut through by the Little Antietam Creek. The remnants of the stone mill lie ahead on the left where the creek crosses under the road. Well back from the right side of the road is the farmstead that once supported the mill. A stone wall edges the road before the buildings and is pierced by a central iron gate and a drive along the eastern edge of the spacious yard.
A small stone building stands near the drive before the main house. It contains one large room with a huge fireplace that once had a beehive oven in it. At one time this structure was used as a forge, but it resembles early Irish cottages. On each of the long walls is a door, which shares a jamb with an adjoining window. This is an unusual feature and may indicate that this little building dates as early as the 18th century.
The main house, which faces the road, is built of stone and is nestled into the gentle slope of the land so that the basement level opens out into the back yard. A two-story, four-bay section is on the left with a two-story, two-bay kitchen wing on the right. A broad poured concrete porch floor, inscribed: Made by DCM and MCD May 1, 1914, extends the width of the building. Above, the severed ends of floor joists jut out; revealing that the porch roof had been cantilevered at one time–a pent roof. As this roof had sagged over time, earlier owners added columns. Finally the roof deteriorated to the point where it had to be removed. It was then that the new owners discovered the original pent roof construction. They also removed the roughcast that had been applied to the wall under this roof and found that the mortar joints between the stones had been painted with even, white lines about an inch wide. These lines enhance the regularity of the stonework and were probably drawn on all the mortar joints of the front elevation of the house. It is possible that the entire house may have been decorated in this way, but time has worn away any other evidence of this.
A drip course runs across the front of the four-bay section and around its east side, indicating that this was the earlier part of the structure and that it had had pent roofs on these two sides. Removal of the modern framing around the windows of the first level revealed the massive original pegged frames that hold the original nine-over-six pane sashes. The second story level has six-over-six sashes that are also held in their original framing.
A spring rises under the kitchen wing and a cylindrical masonry well, erected from the spring to the first floor level, allowed the cook to dip water from the spring directly into the kitchen. This spring flows through the barrel-arched root cellar under part of the main section of the house. It then joins Little Antietam Creek. In this section of the basement, many of the shaped wood shelf supports that were built into the masonry to carry broad shelves still survive. The floor is brick laid in a herringbone pattern, and there is a large cooking fireplace.
Bell’s History of Leitersburg District describes Huckleberry Hall as originally being surveyed for Daniel Dulaney on December 5, 1742, but he died before completing title. The patent was granted to Jacob French, September 29, 1759, and contained 100 acres. It was next owned by John Schnebley, who leased it and an adjacent 140 acres to Jacob Good in 1770. It was specified that at the expiration of the lease …There will be left with the place all building such as it is at present, with all the improvements; likewise the table and benches in the house; also two bedsteads, with divers household goods, the iron stove excepted. This implies that there were buildings present at the time Good leased the property. According to Bell, Good purchased the property in 1772.
Huckleberry Hall is remarkable for the vast amount of 18th century detail that still remains intact in the buildings. The main house has stone doorsills, and the spaces between the floor joists were filled with slabs of wood and chunks of rock before the floors were laid. Double-beveled shingles from an earlier roof were found in the attic of the kitchen, thrown there by a roofer who was not inclined to haul away his debris. The doors have six raised panels and long strap hinges; some still have thumb latches or huge box locks. Several exterior doors are paneled on one side and batten on the other, a carpentry technique used to make the doors more stable.
The first floor of the house has three fireplaces. A nine-foot wide cooking fireplace in the kitchen once had a beehive oven in it. In the dining room a shallow fireplace has shouldered sides. Its masonry is plaster-coated; wood paneling and a built-in side cupboard surround it. The back room has a slightly different fireplace with an arched top. There is no fireplace in the main front room. Rather, a space beside the door between the front and back rooms is lined with brick and plaster and accesses a flue. This originally opened into both rooms and must have housed a stove that heated both rooms.
One of the upstairs chambers has a fireplace wall that retains striking original paneling with cupboards built in beside the fireplace. The union of the wall and ceiling is finished with a bold cornice and dentil molding. The most rare find in this unusual house is its original decorative paint. Most of the mopboards and the stair risers were marbleized. The woodwork on the first floor still has the original green paint, with the panels of the doors painted gold. Where this has been over-painted, the new owners are laboriously stripping away the new to reveal the original. On the walls of the back room, preserved under a coat of paint, are stenciled motifs. The front room was also stenciled, and vestiges of these also remain but were more severely damaged by the wallpaper placed over them. Eventually the original patterns and colors will be restored.
The pine floors have never been finished. Stairs rise to the second floor immediately inside the front door and cross in front of a window on both the first and second levels. It is a closed stringer staircase, a boxed section at the edge of the stairs which holds the ends of the balusters and the edges of the treads.
Huckleberry Hall is being lovingly restored so that it can survive into another century. This rare treasure is Washington County’s latest addition to the National Register of Historic Places.
Epilogue: The front porch has been finished and now has chamfered posts to hold the roof. Stenciling has been restored.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, August 4, 1991 as the 26th in the series.