102 – Bald Barrons, circa 1812, east of Hagerstown, MD
The stone farmhouse at the corner of Old Forge and Beck Roads dates from 1812, a time of transition from the Colonial to Federal styles of architecture. It is set angled at the corner of the two roads, facing them with a cross-gable that is dominated on the attic level by a large, oval window with radiating muntins and two slender side lights, each with three panes of glass. On the first level, a modern, enclosed porch obscures two identical entrances in the second and fourth bays of the house. Pairs of narrow doors fill these four-foot wide openings. Above these doors are fanlights, one still retaining its radiating muntins. A small lean-to frame kitchen wing was recently attached to the back of the house.
The main doors have broad stone sills and open into the two front rooms of the house. The room on the left (west) has no fireplace and no chimney for a stove. A tall, narrow, arched opening on the wall opposite the entrance leads into a rear room on that side of the house. The east room extends the depth of the house. This formal parlor is dominated by an elegant mantelpiece with paneled side cupboards that rise to the ceiling on the eastern wall. Large windows with six-over-six sashes are located on either side of the door. The jambs of the windows and doors are finished with fine, paneled woodwork. The windows are finished with cavetto moldings, typical of early architecture, while the cupboards have simple turned corner blocks, a transition to the Federal period.
Between the rear room on the west and the back of the formal parlor is an enclosed staircase. Here, curved walls surround a spiral staircase that rises to the third level. A window with curved moldings opens over the stairs between the first and second floors. The round handrail is held on delicate rectangular balusters that are reeded on one face. Scroll-cut brackets decorate each step, and this scrolling is repeated along the curved edges of the floors on both the second and third levels. At the top, a tiny balcony overhanging the stairs was intended to open onto a hallway in the attic; but this third level was never finished. Three rooms were framed out, but the hand-split laths hold no plaster, and the baseboards are attached to unfinished stone walls. The delicate, curved balustrade of the balcony is now framed by rough timbers and insulation, closing the attic off from the staircase. It seems unlikely that this elegant staircase was intended to be walled away from the formal first floor rooms, but rather that the present wall configuration is the result of some later effort to conserve heat.
There is a full, deep cellar under the house. A summer beam runs from front to back holding mill-sawn joists. A central stone wall running from gable to gable may have been added later. To the east of the house is a stone wash house, and behind, a stone smokehouse.
In February 1797, Francis Protzman bought thirty three and one-half acres of Resurvey on Webb’s Discovery from Christian Good. Two months later, he acquired 96 acres of Forrest and The Gleanings from Peter Hoover; and six years later another twelve acre parcel was purchased from John Beard. Part of Bald Barrons, a twenty-acre triangle of land patented by John Beard in 1759, was also acquired by Protzman. Some early maps refer to this area of western Maryland as Lord Baltimore’s Barrens, because stone outcrops led people to believe that the land was not fertile. Perhaps this whimsical patent name described a parcel without trees in his lordship’s barrens.
Protzman’s grandfather had emigrated from Germany, and his father was a steward of the Moravian Church of America. Francis Protzman was an early member of Beard’s Lutheran Church, which is next to his farm; and he was one of the committee that purchased the graveyard where he and many of his family are buried.
It was Francis Protzman, owner of extensive land holdings in the county, who built Bald Barrons in the early part of the 19th century. It was an elegant home, meant for entertaining groups of people at religious, political or social functions. In addition to the handsome parlor, there was a ballroom on the second floor across the front of the house. This space has now been divided into two bedrooms and a bath, but the moldings around all the windows in these three rooms are alike. They have the same fancy cavetto in the parlor. One fireplace on the east wall served what was once the ballroom. The mantelpiece has tapered, reeded, engaged columns on each side. A panel above the firebox has a central oval pattern worked with shallow carving and similar fans in the corners. The oval patterns that appear in the house were a popular motif in the new Federal style.
A list of Old Homes of Washington County compiled early this century names this property (called Ball Barren), indicating that it was considered one of the area’s landmarks. The caption of a 1928 newspaper photograph reads: This stone house, erected 116 years ago is one of the best-built homes in Washington County, the walls being more than two feet thick. Its age was unknown until several years ago when workmen repairing the building uncovered a stone in the foundation on which the date of erection was cut.
Protzman died in 1835. In 1852 his estate sold the property, then 212 acres, to Philip Beck for $11,662.12. David Beck acquired 153.5 acres of this in 1893 for $15,701. Louisa J. Wolf purchased the land, now 171 acres, for $9,704 in 1907. Two years later it was bought by John W. Lung for $12,464 and is now owned by Lung’s great-grandson, Harold Bowman.
Gladys Bowman, Harold’s mother, grew up in the home and remembers being told of the ballroom, remembers her father worrying about doing structural damage to the house when he enlarged a window, remembers that the large stone outside the kitchen door once lay before the front entrance of the house. Much has changed in the house. Walls have been moved and added, doors and windows have been changed. An early photograph shows a one-story stone wing on the west side of the house. The stonework indicates that the west window on the first floor was once a door. Through all the changes and all the years, Bald Barrons continues to be a lovely home and an asset to the county.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, April 19, 1998 as the 102nd in the series.