32 – Stafford Hall, circa 1840, east of Clear Spring, MD
East of Clear Spring, on Cohill Road, a large, two-story, white-painted brick house sits on a rise that is shaded by old trees and softened by mature shrubs. The center section of this home is three bays wide. In the middle bay, a wide transom and sidelights with double rectangular panes surround the formal eight-panel door. This door with its marble threshold enters into a broad central hall. The main block of the house is flanked on either side by symmetrical, one-bay wings set back from the central section. Behind the north wing, a ten-bay, two-story ell extends beyond the hill so that the stone basement/foundation is at ground level at its furthest end.
The house is laid in common bond on all façades and set on fieldstone foundations. Most of the window openings have flat arches, but the second story windows of the symmetrical wings have recessed segmental arches above them. The hip roof over the center section of the house has a balustrade between two massive interior chimneys, and a small central dormer pierces the roof below the widow’s walk. There are, in all, nine chimneys, 87 doors and more than 30 rooms.
This massive house has evolved over time. The first section is probably the first room of the ell with its cooking fireplace and large chimney. Later the formal front of the house and the two symmetrical wings were added. The entry hall originally went through to a double porch that was later closed in. There is no grand, curving stairway in this hall, rather boxed stairs exit to the east. There is a three foot mismatch between the second story floors of the front section and the ell. Oddly enough a door was located between two rooms at this juncture, but no steps were placed there until recently. Guests wandering lost through the house during a party some years ago were fortunate to land on a bed that was beneath the door. In the hall, four steps accommodate this difference.
The original one-room building was also extended, becoming the ell, with inset double porches on its east side. The rooms in this section were living and working quarters for the servants or slaves who worked in the house. The last room in the ell contains a large cooking fireplace, and a room above it is equipped with a similar fireplace. The lintels of these fireplaces are formed with header bricks set in a wide, elliptical arch. In the middle of the ell is a beehive oven that had a dumb waiter beside it to access the room above.
The house was designed so that every room could be reached from outside, from one of the halls, or from one of the porches. This was probably to allow the servants access to the entire house without disturbing anyone unnecessarily. The two rooms off the center hall each have jib windows that allowed the rooms to be exited to the side gardens when the steps were still in place.
The basement level of the ell contained a carriage storage area, and an arched brick walkway through the middle of this level allows access from one side to the other without going around the entire structure. The fieldstone foundation wall of the end of the ell is extended west for some distance. It is pierced by another arched walkway parallel to the side of the ell and then forms the front walls of a bake oven and a root cellar. It then becomes the foundation for a log building that is built at the edge of the side garden and on the same level as the house. The bake oven and root cellar face into a sheep pasture near a 75 foot deep hand-dug well, stone lined and six feet in diameter.
Early records are not complete, but it appears that Dr. Charles Carroll may have been the first owner, although Stafford Hall may have been part of the vast holdings of Evan Shelby at one time. (Evan Shelby’s son Isaac moved to Kentucky and became that state’s first governor.) The name Stafford Hall first appears in records in 1839 when it was sold by Abraham Barnes and others. In 1844, Francis Dodge of Georgetown purchased the property, and in 1881, William T. Hamilton, the Governor of Maryland from 1879 to 1884, bought it at public sale. It remained in the Hamilton family, used as a summer home, until 1920 when Leo A. Cohill bought it.
In 1906, a sale was advertised by Miss Julia H. Hamilton, which proclaimed that Stafford Hall Farms were to be sold in six tracts. The description of tract number one declares, …Upon this section is the fine mansion house, known as Stafford Hall. It contains about forty rooms, all in perfect condition, painted and papered, hot and cold water, bath room, several kitchens, office with both ‘phones installed: about six acres of lawn and garden; set with trees and surrounded with a beautiful hedge. The other buildings on this section consist of a new barn, new horse stable, hog pens, chicken house, smoke houses, schoolhouse, wind-pump, all in perfect condition. The situation is not excelled in the county. The house was built regardless of expense and is in as good, substantial condition as the first day it was occupied. The view is superb and the air, in the hottest day, cool and exhilarating. It would make an ideal home, one to be proud of and enjoy.
Apparently this sale did not occur, and the mansion remained in the Hamilton family until 1920 when the Cohills bought it. The house had deteriorated from the sale flier description. No bathroom is remembered, harnesses and feed were found in the front hall, and a great deal of work needed to be done on the house. Leo Cohill had been active in the Tonoloway Orchards but had ended that association before moving to Stafford Hall. Once there he planted whips of young apple trees, then farmed, ran a dairy and sold Stafford Hall Spring Water for the ten years it took for the trees to mature and begin to produce an apple crop for him.
The present residents of this fine home are Leo Cohill’s oldest and youngest daughters and their husbands. Nancy Cohill Manuel was born at Stafford Hall and has lived there all her life. In 1946 she and Jack Manuel were married there and then reared their two sons James Cohill Manuel and Thomas Cohill Manuel. After Leo Cohill’s death, she and her siblings continued the orchard business until 1975. Alice Cohill Marquez married an army officer who served as a colonel on the Inter-American Defense Board during World War II and later worked at the Pentagon. In 1970, the Marquezes retired, returned to Stafford Hall and took up residence in one side of the house. Recently James Cohill Manuel has redone a suite of rooms for himself. Skilled as an interior decorator, he has highlighted the historic moldings, doors and hardware in these rooms and used historic colors and fabric styles to create a warm and beautiful space.
Jack and Nancy Manuel and Alice Marquez were all educators and are steeped in the history of their home. They are careful to maintain the structure but are comfortable with their heritage. Stafford Hall gives them ample room for privacy and lovely spaces to share. The Cohill sisters are particularly fond of entertaining together because the large rooms and high ceilings accommodate large groups so well. Another generation is coming along to love and care for Stafford Hall, too. Thomas Cohill and Katie Slick Manuel have built a house on the farm and have a son Andrew and a daughter Jennifer. The Cohills and Stafford Hall remain intertwined.
Epilogue: The family redecorated the house in 1995 for the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage. The smokehouse has been restored, the roof has been partially replaced and a new porch has been added to the west side of the house.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, February 2, 1992 as the 32nd in the series of articles by Patricia Schooley about the historical homes of Washington County.