49 – Felfoot Farm, 1784, east of Keedysville, MD
Southeast of Keedysville, Dogstreet Road winds through farmland and dips to cross Little Antietam Creek over a graceful stone bridge. Felfoot Farm lies astraddle both the road and the Little Antietam as it curls under the bridge. This is one of the oldest land grants in the county. In 1737, 115 acres of land called Fell Foot was patented to Thomas Van Swearingen; and in 1752 Felfoot Enlarged, a tract of 2,100 acres which included the original patent, was granted to Tobias Stansbury. In 1763, Conrad Schnebley (or Snavaley—both spellings were used in his will) purchased a portion of that land and it remained in his family until the end of the century. Deeds of this period refer to it as the …House or Mansion Farm of the late Elias Snivel…, so the family seems to have settled on yet another spelling.
A sale notice published by the trustees of the late Adam Snively in 1889 offers 305 acres of land and continues:
The improvements consist of a large two-story dwelling house, built of brick and stone, containing thirteen rooms, a large stone barn, a very fine granary with scales attached, a large double carriage and machinery house, wagon shed with two corn cribs, blacksmith shop, hog pen, wash house, spring house and other outbuildings, mostly built of stone and all in excellent repair. There is also a good two-story tenant house on this farm and a good draw lime kiln, capacity of 200 bushels per day. About 15 acres are in good timber. This farm is well watered and has upon it a large number of choice fruit trees.
There is no farm in Washington County of better quality of land, in better condition and under better fencing. It is well situated, convenient to schools, churches, mills and post office, and no more desirable property can be found anywhere.
In 1890, the trustees sold the homestead to Henry Keedy for $15,585.48. In 1904, Keedy’s widow sold all but a few acres to Martin Luther Flook, a lock repairman on the C&O Canal, and Otho J. Shank for $14,000. The partnership lasted less than a year; and Shank, Flook’s brother-in-law, bought the farm next to Felfoot. John Jacob Harlan Flook purchased the farm from his father in 1920; and today it belongs to his son Austin and Austin’s wife JoAnn. Here is a working farm with a heart of 18th century buildings.
On the south side of the road, the massive stone barn is set at an angle. The gable end is built with narrow ventilation slits; and near its top is a circular indentation with a date stone below, surrounded by an arch of cut stone. Many years ago, the date 1754 was visible; but it has since weathered away. Tradition states that this barn was built to house supplies for Braddock’s Army as it moved toward Fort Pitt in 1756, but it can’t be proved.
Opposite the barn, settled among old trees on the north side of the road, is the house. The west half of this house is stone, a four-bay structure with flat arches of dressed stone above the first floor windows and a date stone inscribed 1784 beneath the initials CES (Conrad and Elizabeth Schnebley). The back of this section may be the original house, a one-room wing with a loft and a large cooking fireplace, which was once backed by an exterior beehive oven. On the east is a brick addition of four bays with double inset porches and two doors facing the road. The brick is laid in common bond on all sides, and the lower porch has been enclosed.
Behind the house are two small stone buildings. The one just off the corner of the original house is about twenty feet by thirty feet with its door facing the house and the foundations of the beehive oven. The other building is smaller, brick-floored, and looks toward the main house with its gable end. A single beaded batten door stands at ground level opening into the loft, allowing access to that space with the use of a ladder from the outside. There is no other way into the loft. Between this structure and the house is a vaulted stone root cellar that once served as the foundation for a small frame building. These two stone buildings, the original room of the house and the barn all employ massive stones in the masonry, quoined corners and stone doorsills. However the stonework in the main house uses much smaller stones and no quoins, suggesting that the main house was constructed at a different time than the other buildings.
Near the creek is a pile of stones that was by tradition called slave quarters, and between that and the house is a dirt road that leads into the farm. This road passes a small stone house built into the steep bank of the creek, the tenant house mentioned in the sale notice, and finally reaches Mount Hebron cemetery, an early burying ground for the United Brethren Church. The stone fence surrounding the plot of nearly an acre is in good repair, and many early gravestones as well as the foundations of the small church remain.
Inside the main house of Felfoot, the stone wing has a center hall with the dining room and original kitchen on the left and two rooms on the right. The rooms on the left have corner fireplaces placed back to back in the middle of the gable wall. The original dining room mantel has delicate dentil molding beneath the shelf and unusual flat, applied scroll-cut floral patterns above the firebox. The woodwork around doors and windows has two levels and is finished with ogee molding. The door at the end of the center hall, once the front door of the small original house, is batten on the hall side and has raised panels on the other side. It hangs on long strap hinges. In the center hall, stairs with a simple handrail and turned balusters ascend to three bedrooms on the second floor and continue to the attic.
The attic is unfinished, and the stair rail has no balusters at that level. Here the framing of the house is revealed. There are two bents—the basic unit of timber frame construction. The posts and beams that make up the bents are mortised, tenoned and pegged together on the ground, then raised as a unit. These bents divide the attic into three sections. The purlins—horizontal timbers running parallel to the ridge—are supported by the bents and the stone gable ends of the house, and then support the common roof rafters. The whole framing system is similar to that used in timber frame barns.
The brick wing nearly doubled the size of the house. The two parlors have fireplaces with large, four-door cupboards beside them and are separated by a solid brick wall. Each parlor may be entered by a door from the porch. The upstairs contains one large bedroom and three small ones, as well as stairs to the first floor at the back.
JoAnn and Austin Flook have lived at Felfoot throughout their marriage. They love the farm, fill it with local treasures and search for more of its history. Once, when driving his tractor across a meadow in new falling snow, Austin saw a rectangle of earth on which the snow was not melting. Recalling tales of treasure, he stopped and dug. His was not a treasure of gold, but rather a stone with the letters BT carved in it—the land grant stone referred to in many deeds around Keedysville. Beginning at the original beginning of the whole tract called Fell Foot Enlarged being a stone which stands in the upper meadow and near the east side of the Little Antietam Creek. Marking the spot where he found the stone, Austin removed it to the yard in front of the barn, where it remains to this day—the only land grant stone known to exist in the county. Felfoot is a special farm, firmly grounded in the 18th century, but preparing to enter the 21st century.
Epilogue: Austin Flook’s grandson is the fifth generation of his family to live at Felfoot. Austin is doing everything he can to preserve the farm’s rural heritage. He recently sold an easement for development rights ensuring Felfoot will always remain farmland.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, September 5, 1993 as the 49th in the series.