76 – Hamilton Row, circa 1898, Hagerstown, MD
Hagerstown is blessed with a large number of historic commercial buildings, many built during the period from 1880 to 1920 when the city became a leading manufacturing center and was served by seven railroads. Most of the buildings that remain from this era are still in use, and some have been sensitively restored, reusing as much of the original fabric of the structure as possible. One such building is at 28 North Jonathan Street.
When Jonathan Hager platted his town in 1762, most lots were 82 feet wide and 240 feet deep. This provided enough land for a home with a well (sometimes shared), privy, kitchen garden, stable and chicken yard as well as some small commercial enterprise. As the town became more urban, the commercial value of the land increased; and these homesteading activities moved to the fringes of town.
Old records state that Lot Number 77, at the northeast corner of West Washington and Jonathan Streets, was owned by Nathaniel Rochester in 1807. In 1808, the Hagerstown Bank opened in the front room of this house, and Rochester sold the property to the bank for $3,250 in 1810 before he left for New York to found the city named after him. The bank moved to new quarters five years later.
In 1873, William T. Hamilton, a local lawyer and politician born in 1820, purchased …one undivided third part thereof… that Hotel property situated on the North East corner of Washington and Jonathan Streets…lot 77… from Henry and Nellie Bell for $5,000. This purchase made Hamilton a partner in the Antietam Hotel (called the Western Hotel in 1854 deeds). Hamilton was obviously aware of the expanding economy and was positioning himself to take advantage of it.
In 1880, the year after his election as governor of Maryland, William T. Hamilton purchased …a half-lot portion of ground improved with a two story stone house and other buildings… on West Washington Street for $7,950 from Judge A. K. Syester and his wife Catherine. This parcel was bounded on the west by the Antietam Hotel Property and extended to the …middle of the alley on the east between this property and the property of the First National Bank of Hagerstown. With this purchase, he expanded his holdings across from the courthouse.
Three years later, he bought three-fifths of one-third interest in Lot 77 from Thomas H. Crampton for $3,250. And, in 1885, Hamilton made two more purchases. Norman B. and Catherine M. Scott sold …one third in and to all that lot of ground with the improvements thereon lying immediately in front of the courthouse…along Jonathan Street to an alley… for $6,000, and James I. Hurley sold two-fifths of one-third of Lot 77 for $2,400. These sales completed his purchase of the Antietam Hotel, and they indicate the changes that had taken place since the town was first laid out. The small homesteads of the original plat were gone. Hamilton now owned all of Lot 77, containing the hotel, and half of Lot 80. The stone house on Lot 80, probably the last residential structure in the block, was demolished. Hamilton used the land to expand his hotel, added a new façade and renamed it after himself. The land across from the courthouse was now entirely commercial.
In 1898, Hamilton Row was built along Jonathan Street between the hotel and an existing two-story building at the back of Lot 77, next to the alley. This structure had been a lodge of some kind, and at its rear was another brick building that was used as a carriage house. Hamilton Row is separated from the hotel on the street level by a narrow walkway that leads to a courtyard behind the buildings. This walkway is accessed through a high, narrow archway between the buildings. The second floor level joined the hotel.
This brick Beaux Arts building was planned to house shops on the street level and additional hotel rooms on the second floor. Originally, there were a pair of windows, a single window and a door on either side of the central entrance. This entrance is flanked with small stone pillars and trimmed with carved stone detail. The wide brick arches over the entry and the double windows are filled with large, elliptical leaded-glass windows with smaller leaded-glass lights over the narrower openings. The narrow lodge building at the alley had two openings on the second floor, one of which is a great, tall, arched window. A gable above the corbeled roofline has a frieze of swags that unites the two buildings.
William Hamilton died in 1888, and his wife followed him in 1919. The next year, the Hamilton estate rented the hotel and Hamilton Row to Albert Gunnell. Court documents provide a floor plan for the building at that time and list a barbershop, newsstand and ticket broker’s office among tenants on the first floor of the hotel complex. A ten-year lease, written in 1920, places rent at $12,500 a year and gives ..the right to the said party of the second part during the existence of the lease to maintain and use the chicken coop and the cesspool on the said real estate. Kurt Cushwa, a local architect, states that chickens were raised in downtown back lots into the 1930s and that, occasionally, buildings are still found that are served by cesspools.
During a later modernization, the symmetrical façade of Hamilton Row was changed when the northern two bays of this infill structure were combined with the lodge building to make the whole appear to be two buildings of roughly the same size. Broad transoms of square, ribbed-glass panes (now painted black) were added over the first floor windows and doors of the northern half of the façade. Although the brick of the northern half of the Row was painted (now brick red) to accentuate the difference between the two parts, the second floor and the roofline still reveal a narrow end building and a broad, balanced central structure.
Inside, the grand building with the sixteen foot plus ceilings suffered many insensitive renovations. The balustrade of the central stairway was enclosed and paneled. Ceilings were dropped–sometimes more than once–cutting across the tall windows and transoms. One room had a mezzanine added, halving the height of the room and placing a stairway across its window.
In 1993, Kurt Cushwa and Roger Schlossburg, a local lawyer, purchased the building. At the same time, J. Edward Cochran & Co., a downtown insurance agency, was looking for a new home. An extensive renovation began the following year, with some of the space designed for the Cochran agency. It was an exciting process. Seventy-five tons of debris were removed. Workers were surprised to find the balustrade beneath the paneling. The newel post that had been cut off diagonally was recreated, and missing balusters were replaced. The dropped ceilings were removed, and a tin ceiling was discovered in the entry hall. Original wainscoting and woodwork were restored. Large, single-light transoms were revealed and used.
The interior spaces are completed now and have been occupied since September 1994 by J. Edward Cochran & Co. and Timothy Gordon’s law offices. The project isn’t quite finished. The areaway behind the building and the cobblestone alley that leads from it present a tantalizing opportunity. So many options…
Epilogue: The courtyard is now paved with cobblestones and has had landscape plantings and a gate added.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, January 7, 1996 as the 76th in the series.