75 – Springfield Farm, circa 1764 and 1879, Williamsport, MD
The knot of buildings that once was the heart of Springfield Farm has been divided into three parcels because farming methods changed and farmland became more valuable as house lots than as fields. New uses have been found for these original structures, and they continue to be a serene and quiet rural enclave nestled next to Williamsport. The great dairy barn has become a museum for the town, the Stillhouse is a private home and the main house, with the rest of the remaining outbuildings, constitutes the third parcel and is the subject of this article.
It is probable that the main buildings were already standing at the time Otho Holland Williams purchased the property; for, at that time, £2,900 was too great a price for 528 and 3/4 acres without improvements. This tract was patented in 1775 as Ross’s Purchase and comprised two earlier patents, Limestone Hill and Ezekiel’s Inheritance. It was called Garden of Eden in General Williams’ will and finally Springfield Farm by his son.
The main house at Springfield faces east, a grand, rambling home, two-and-a-half stories high, with three distinct sections, each representing a different time period. The central section is covered with beaded clapboards, and has five bays with a central doorway shielded by a pedimented double porch. Pairs of batten doors hung on strap hinges close both this broad entrance and the one at the other end of the center hall. The interior sides of these doors are diagonal battens, and the entrances are secured by wooden bars that slide through wrought iron staples secured to the framing around the doors, according to tradition a security against Indian attack. A simple stairway with slender square balusters rises easily into the attic on the right of this hall.
In 1952, Mary Vernon Mish was invited to look at the house when this section was being renovated and its walls were stripped of plaster. She describes the east and west walls as framed with heavy timbers pinned together by pegs, braced with diagonal beams and infilled with nogging of small, soft bricks. The end walls, north and south, were made of large bricks with no bonding apparent at the corners. Framed side walls with brick ends are typical in Tidewater construction. She reported that, high on one of these walls, the workmen discovered the signatures of four or five men and the date 1776. The north brick wall has a bricked-in window, indicating that the dining room was added after the 1776 renovation.
This main block of the house now contains a large living room to the left of the entrance hall, which was made by removing the wall between the earlier two rooms. Two fireplaces were removed and replaced by a single large one with a lovely early Adams mantel. Subtle differences still remain in the woodwork of the two halves of this room. To the right of the hall is a sitting room with a fireplace and a hallway at its rear. Beyond the back door of the center hall is a Victorian screened porch built several steps below the main level. A small basement under this section is entered from a bulkhead. Here is an enormous brick arch, perhaps nine feet wide and five feet high that has been bricked up. Mrs. Mish mentions a huge fireplace in the basement, so this must have been closed after her tour.
The north, brick wing of the house was originally a separate kitchen with a large cooking fireplace and steep stairs to the upper level, a half-story bedroom called the slave bedroom by earlier owners. On the roof of the kitchen is a hooded bell, once used to sound the alarm. A narrow room was added across the back of the kitchen at a still later time. Once used as the kitchen, it is now a storage area.
The space between the main house and this kitchen was later filled with the addition of the dining room. It has an elegant east-facing bay window, probably added around the time the south wing was built, and two windows at the rear. The upper sashes of these windows are single panes with positive photographic images of southwestern scenes printed on them. These pictures of Yosemite Park are credited to William Henry Jackson, a renowned 19th century photographer, and are unique because of the size of the images on the glass panes.
The legend that George Washington visited Springfield in October of 1790 while inspecting Williamsport as a possible site for the nation’s Capitol is repeated and embellished with each written history of the town although the story lacks supporting evidence.
General Williams died in 1794 and Springfield passed first to his brother Elie and then to General Williams’ son Edward Greene Williams who was known for lavish entertaining. The Williams family retained ownership of the farm complex until 1864, when 211 acres, thirteen rods and ten perches were sold to Charles Humrichouse, a sugar merchant from Baltimore. Tenant farmers had run the farm for a number of years, and soldiers in the Civil War cut most of the ancient timber on the farm for use by the armies as they crisscrossed the area. Part of General Lee’s army is said to have camped at Springfield after the battle of Gettysburg as they waited for the Potomac River to subside so that they could cross back into Virginia.
Under Humrichouse’s management, Springfield was again a model farm and a center of social life in the Williams-port community. He removed an existing south wing of the house and, around 1879 when he retired to Springfield, replaced it with the imposing Victorian structure that is now there. The first floor of the addition contains a broad entrance hallway with wide plaster cornice moldings and a ceiling medallion. The stairway, which rises to the third floor, has substantial turned and faceted balusters and a wide, molded handrail. Originally, to the left of the hallway was a ballroom that could accommodate a hundred seated guests. This has now been divided into a living room with the original fireplace and its carved, arch-topped marble mantel, a dining room and a kitchen.
The Humrichouse heirs sold the farm in 1948. For almost 200 years, just two families had held the farm. It has passed through several owners, undergoing subdivision and renovations since then. The present owner of this parcel of the farm Meryl Leonard anticipates running it as a bed and breakfast in the near future. The grand avenue of trees along the entrance road has grown old again, and the buildings settle in their shade as this early National Register property looks to the future.
Epilogue: Meryl Leonard died in November 2000, and the house now belongs to her three children. It will soon be sold.