35 – Red Mill Farm, circa 1740 and 1880s, Williamsport, MD
North of the Nursing Home in Williamsport, on the old road that once went to Greencastle, Pennsylvania, is a large stone house that is coming to life again. Four years ago, the outbuildings were without roofs and covered with vines, the house had roof leaks, rotting cornice boards and needed repointing. At that time, the current owner, trained as a lawyer but with an abiding passion for antiques and old houses, bought the house and began restoration. At first he worked alone, then a friend who is also interested in restoring old houses and in antiques joined him. Between them, they have done all the work on the house. They have removed rubble, sifting through it to salvage the old rosehead nails that were then sorted for reuse as the building progressed. They have planed, sawed, built and pointed. And now the restoration is nearing completion.
The original section of this house, built in the 1740s, consisted of a loft, a keeping room and a cooking room on the first floor with a dirt-floored basement below. Between the two first-floor rooms, four steep steps from each room join at a rhomboid shaped landing. A closed flight of stairs, perpendicular to the short flight, runs from the landing to a sleeping loft chamber above.
The larger front section of the house was built in the 1770s, but looks much later because the house suffered a fire during the fourth decade of the 19th century. At that time the house was renovated; two-over-two window sashes replaced most of the original sashes and much of the woodwork was revamped to reflect Victorian tastes. The entrance to this formal section of the house is in the south bay of the front façade. A wide transom and sidelights surround the four-panel door. These lights are decorated with oak lath strips that have been bent to create a decorative curvilinear pattern over the glass. The rare hanging staircase, with a turned walnut newel post and walnut balusters, is cantilevered from within the inner stone walls and ascends into the attic. Turned rondels decorate the stringer as the stairs rise to the second floor.
Woodwork around the doors is deeply molded in a linear pattern that curves around the corner blocks to create a continuous line. The outside of the woodwork is finished with ovolo molding mitered at the corners. Beneath the windows, the apron is oval in shape and decorated with the same deep, molded pattern. Upstairs, the woodwork is similar but retains its 18th century appearance. The doors are four-panel and are finished with box locks and slide bolts that have been carefully collected and installed. The owner likes things to work so he has filed keys to fit all the old locks and has made sure that the same key will work all the locks in each room.
The plaster throughout the house is made with hog hair and crushed oyster shells and has been preserved wherever possible. The floors had been painted then covered with padding and carpet. This was removed and the floors stripped of paint, revealing random heart pine floorboards.
The winter kitchen has been returned to its original spot in the back room of the first section of the house. The cooking fireplace has been opened and replastered, and a cupboard has been built beside the fireplace, using hand planed, pegged 18th century doors original to the property. An outside door with a diamond-patterned transom leads into the kitchen from the lower of the double porches at the side of the house. The basement has been restored too. Chicken wire and insulation were removed from the window openings and new square oak staves inserted to make the vents function again. Batten doors were then built and placed behind the vents to close the window against harsh weather and birds. The cattle door, which opens out under the double porches, was repaired and rehung on its strap hinges.
Vines were stripped from what remained of the outbuildings and the jungle removed from the yard almost to the edge of the steep bank of the Conococheague Creek. The entire roof and second floor of the garage were rebuilt and the masonry repaired. New frames, windows and doors were built and installed. The upper floor has become an antique shop that houses the business that evolved as the restoration proceeded.
All the walls of the summer kitchen had partially collapsed and the roof was gone. The floor has been re-laid in old bricks, the masonry rebuilt and the roof replaced. The curious cooking fireplace with its internal brick chimney has been rebuilt, and a long cupboard with a counter top has been built along one wall. It will become a workbench and tool storage area.
The project will be finished some time this summer and the restorers will devote their energies and expertise to the antiques business and to a restoration enterprise that they are establishing. Thanks to their efforts, another old house has been given a new lease on life and all of us benefit from the beauty it adds to our county.
Epilogue: Charles Keller purchased Red Mill Farm in June 2001. Restoration work on the house was meticulous, but he decided to move the kitchen to make better use of the last room in the wing and its lovely fireplace. This space is now a den. He is also changing the fireplace in the living room and will be using a mantel original to the 1880s renovation here.