58 – Hawkins House, circa 1825-1870, Williamsport, MD

Near the confluence of the Conococheague Creek with the  scenic Potomac River, Conococheague and Potomac Streets intersect, forming the heart of Williams-port. Number fourteen Conococheague is a townhouse set in a row of residences just beyond the primary business district. Built of brick painted dark green with bright white trim and standing next to the sidewalk, this well-kept residence has been the home of the Hawken family for four generations.

Otho Holland Williams’ parents owned land and lived in this area when Williams was young. He went on to be a hero of the Revolution and later repurchased the farm his family had owned. He laid out Williamsport on this property in 1787 but resided in Baltimore. His brother Elie (pronounced ee’lee) oversaw the project. In 1853, William Stake purchased the southern half of original lot 48–26 feet, 4 inches wide–from Mary Lawver. The deed to this transaction describes it as …for and during the unexpired term of ninety-nine (99) years to come, for which the said premises were originally leased, the said William Stake yielding and paying therefor yearly during the said term unto the heirs of the original proprietors of Williamsport, one half the usual quit rents chargable on lots in said town. Apparently Williams leased, but did not sell his town, not an unusual arrangement at the time.

Mary S. Hawken purchased this property from Stake in 1870. There was a large family of Hawkens in Washington County, most descended from Christian and Nicholas Hawken, who emigrated from Switzerland around 1775. Both these men were gunsmiths, and at least fifteen of the family followed this trade. The most famous among them were two of Christian’s sons Jacob and Samuel who were born in Hagerstown in 1786 and 1792, and who departed to St. Louis, Missouri, in the first quarter of the 19th century, where they became the premier rifle makers of the Old West.

The Hawken who moved to fourteen Conococheague, Mary’s husband James, was not a gunsmith but a Justice of the Peace. His tattered 1888 ledger still exists in which he recorded his judgments, scribed in a flowing hand. One defendant was fined …$1 and $3.43 costs… for …using obscene and indecent language on the streets and otherwise abusing Sarah E. Redmond without reason or Cause. An …assault and battery… earned a …$1 fine and $3.80 costs. Peace Warrants were issued. Another man was fined …$1 with $2.20 costs… for …being Drunk and disorderly. Cursing and Swearing on the streets of Williamsport, Md. At the very back of the ledger are oaths from several men. One swore …he would abstain from the use of any kind of intoxicating Liquor for the Space of Five years from this date. Another …Made oath that he will not abuse or ill treat his wife and family from that date. And yet another, …Made Oath on the Holy Evangelly of Almighty God that he will not Drink Any Whisky for five years from the 18th day of November 1889. Except for Medical purposes where prescribed by a Physician. 

James Hawken’s son J. Albert worked 47 years for the Daily Mail, starting as “printer’s devil” and ending as editor of the paper. He inherited the family home when his father died and then passed it to his son Richard who, during his long life, served as mayor of Williamsport from 1934 to 1953. Richard died in 1969 but his wife Ruth and son Robert still occupy the house on Conococheague Street.

A small, cantilevered hip roof protects the transomed entrance of the Hawken home. To the left is a triple window, to the right a single one. Four windows on the second floor and three dormers are set in the mansard roof on the third level. A decorative cornice and frieze with ornate corbels forms a wide horizontal feature below this roof. The windows have two-over-two sashes with a gentle arch in each of the upper lights. It is a charming home.

Within the door is an entry room with a corner fireplace and Adam mantel angled toward the door. The walls are papered in a traditional print, and a tiny lady’s desk sits beside the door. To the left is the living room and behind, a small room with a simple staircase leading to the upper floors. Under the stairs, steps to the basement are closed with paneling. The dining room is to the left, with French doors that lead from it into the entry room. In the dining room, a sideboard fills a recess in the outer wall, and antique china is displayed in a cherry corner cupboard with two paneled lower doors and a nine-light door above. On the second floor, two bedrooms and a sitting room are furnished in period pieces. Another two bedrooms, bath and storage occupy the third level.

Beyond the dining room is the kitchen and a sunroom made by enclosing a porch. These two rooms overlook a garden filled with plantings and lighted by three of the original Williamsport street lamps. A modern deck extends over the garden at street level and a patio nestles beneath it, outside the basement door. Within, on the basement level, is a fireplace with an arched brick lintel; and beside it resides the oak desk James Hawken once used as Justice of the Peace. It has turned legs, two drawers under the desktop and an upper case filled with pigeonholes. Ruth Hawken discovered the desk, then painted, when she dropped in the local barbershop; and the barber told her it had belonged to James Hawken. Thanks to the barber’s kindness, she was able to retrieve it by buying the barber a replacement desk. Ruth loves the antiques that have been handed down in the Hawken family. She has brought them out of the attic and restored them. They fill her home with the rich tones of old wood and memories of her family and of her long and useful life. This is a beautiful home, both comfortable and filled with history.

Epilogue: In March 2001, Ruth Hawken passed away at 84. Her adopted son Robert Staley has inherited the family home. 

This article appeared in the Herald Mail Sunday, July 3, 1994 as the 58th in the series.BookBanner