66 – The Old Stone Mill, circa 1850, northeast of Smithsburg, MD
Northeast of Smithsburg, Edgemont Road winds into the foothills of South Mountain past log houses now clad in weatherboard, past orchards, past a mobile home firmly planted on fieldstone foundations. On the left, a massive stone and frame building stands guard at the edge of the road, a millstone propped against its wall. The gambrel roof, covered with new enameled metal, protects four stories built into the slope, its stone walls laid up on bedrock. A small rill tumbles down the wooded mountainside behind the building.
Once a grist mill with gable ends, this massive building has been transfigured many times. At first it was longer and extended east over the small stream at the back of the property so that an interior millwheel could generate power. Then a fire destroyed the millworks and weakened the back of the building. A flood later destroyed this rear section of the mill but left sound stone walls standing on the west side of the stream. The building was then shortened to 70 feet by 37 feet. No longer straddling the stream, a new end wall was constructed using stones from the damaged section. The mill had become a distillery.
An 1859 map of the area shows a large parcel of land in the vicinity of the building as owned by J. Stouffer, but no structures are pictured. However, T. J. C. Williams’s History of Washington County, Maryland mentions a Jacob Stouffer as a miller; so perhaps he ran the mill around that time. John Welty acquired the property from the Stouffer family about 1877, and the Illustrated Atlas of Washington County, Maryland, 1877 labels a distillery in this area and nearby homes as owned by J. Welty. J. Mitchell Stover, who built the charming brick home next door in 1888, and used the mill as a canning factory, then purchased the parcel. He lost the property by defaulting on a mortgage in 1896, at which time it was purchased …at public outcry (public auction) by a large land holder, Samuel B. Loose, (rhymes with dose) for $83.20 per acre.
Loose, according to Williams, was a graduate of Princeton, a lawyer who began to study law in H. Kyd Douglas’s office and was …much interested in the culture of various kinds of fine fruits. Loose spent his summers at the residence on the Edgemont property; and, in 1923, from April until mid-October, he transformed the old mill yet again. The top floor of the structure was removed, the gambrel roof was installed and a packing plant for his fruit was born. In the basement, both the horse stalls and beams were made of black walnut lumber.
A board removed from the roof joisting revealed the signature of the men who worked on the renovation; and a receipt for the work shows a total labor cost of $2,275, with the men being paid fifteen to 30 cents an hour for carpentry, while masons were paid 40, 50 and 60 cents.
Loose died a few years later; and the property remained in the family of his daughter Elise Loose Lane until 1973. The following year, it was purchased by John and Becky Longmire, who converted it into their home with the help of architect Eleanor Lakin. The open spaces of the packing barn were carefully divided into living areas. Old doors from other properties were salvaged, stripped of finish and reused. One tall, paneled door, still carrying a small brass plaque stating 1st Class Only, probably came from a train station. It now closes the elegant first floor guest room. The original chestnut and pine floors of the mill were refinished, and the stone walls remained exposed through most of the house.
John Longmire had to leave the area for another job, and the house was sold in 1977, in 1979 and again in 1980. In 1981, Jackie Shaw, who never reads the classifieds, was reading classified advertisements in the Washington Post one Sunday, when she came across the only publication of a tiny ad for ..a STONE DWELLING with over 4,000 square feet of space. Jackie is an artist and had been reading about other artists living and working in converted barns. Although she and her husband Lynn were very happy in their home, they went to look as a lark, a Sunday excursion.
The minute they walked through the door, the Shaws were hooked. They wanted the house, and they eventually bought it. That winter, they learned why the erstwhile mill had had so many recent owners. A burning candle held near the western wall would blow out. Winds whistled. It was cold. They pondered solutions, considered encasing the exterior with wood as insulation; but Jackie’s week-long, live-in decorative painting classes were so popular that they needed more space. In 1984, the Shaws added a 24 foot by 60 foot addition, thereby shielding the windy west wall and increasing the size of the house to over 10,000 square feet. There are now nine bedrooms with sleeping space for more than twenty people, six baths, a living room, kitchen, dining room with two tables that Lynn designed and built, music room, two-car garage, Jackie’s studio, Lynn’s studio where he works on the books they publish, a woodworking shop, office and warehouse space.
In spite of its massiveness, the home is intimate and inviting. The areas are nicely scaled and all filled with wonderful textures. Jackie’s collections of old tinware, family heirlooms, art from friends and quilts that are mementos of classes held. Each participant was asked to paint a twelve inch square piece of fabric, and one member of the class would volunteer to assemble the pieces into a quilt in return for a free painting seminar.
But the unifying thread that runs throughout the home is Jackie’s artwork. Here are cornices of freehand rosemaling, (literally, flower painting) sponged wall treatments, marbleized wainscot and drifts of flowers cascading from an out-turned corner. On the balcony overlooking what was once the classroom, an apple motif is carried through, honoring the apple business that once filled the building. An unfinished family tree with apples hung from its branches is waiting to be filled with family names and dates. Johnny Appleseed strides on the adjoining wall. Quotations, beautifully lettered, adorn walls; and simple old pieces of furniture have been stripped and decorated with just the right pattern or verse.
Jackie still teaches, usually abroad, and the live-in painting seminars at the mill are now held only on special occasions. She and Lynn now concentrate on publishing books on decorative painting and have begun to run an annual workshop to raise funds for the local Habitat for Humanity. The old stone mill has become a place for the Shaw’s extended family to gather, work and communicate. It is a joyful celebration.
Epilogue: “In 1998, we added a large sun room overlooking the streams, and oodles of gardens, hoping that would pull us away from our home office and studios where we tend to work too many hours a day (and night!).
1999 marked the last of my foreign travel teaching seminars, capped by a group of painters who traveled from Japan to Smithsburg to take my final week long seminar at the Old Stone Mill. Although I still teach day long workshops in the mill for rare, special occasions, Lynn and I are trying to retire.
We have turned over to our daughter the publishing business that we ran from our office in the mill. Lynn still gives the photography studio a workout: He is now doing the photography for my 32nd book, The Big Book of Step by Step Painting (to be published by Watson Guptill of New York). And until this year, he was also doing the photography for the feature articles I wrote regularly for a half dozen magazines. After I complete the book, I hope to use my art studio–finally–to selfishly explore some different styles of painting.
While the mill no longer resounds with laughter from the pranks and happy escapism of painters on week long learning vacations, it has discovered a new life in accommodating our growing, extended family. We feel blessed to have the room to entertain, all at once, our three daughters, their in-laws and extended families. (Thanksgiving dinners usually include 30 or more people.) Having the mill has given us an opportunity to create a broad community of loving, caring relatives for our children and six grandchildren.
We’re hoping, too, that as the grandchildren grow up, they’ll remember vividly ‘Grandkids Week’ at the mill each summer, stomping through the streams, traipsing across the several bridges and foot bridges, searching for crayfish, and building close relationships with their cousins. The Old Stone Mill has been a beautiful, and integral part of our lives these past twenty years. And we look forward to more fun times in it in the future.
We bought the mill because we thought it would be a great place to share with others. And it certainly has been!”
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, March 5, 1995 as the 66th in the series.