110 – Nicodemus Mill Complex, 1810, east of Keedysville, MD
Dog Creek flows just north of the juncture of Nicodemus Mill and Dogstreet Roads, a small run in a fertile valley. On the east side of the road, a small stone cottage with a double porch looks north across the stream toward the collapsing foundations of Nicodemus Mill, barely visible amid vegetation. A large sycamore grows majestically from the middle of what once was the mill. A lane runs beside the ruins of the mill to a stone house with a brick wing, set among large trees and a collection of accessory buildings, all part of the mill complex.
In 1803, Valentine Nicodemus purchased 175 and 1/2 acres from his brother Conrad for £800, part of land patented as Pile’s Grove. In 1810, Valentine built the elegant stone house for his family. It faces south, built into the hill that drops to Dog Creek, with its basement opening at ground level on that side. Once this façade had porches on all three levels, with the main entrance to the house in the middle of the five bays on the middle porch. The walls are roughly coursed native limestone with no decorative masonry above the openings. Date stones are high on each gable wall. The eastern one, a simple circle surrounded by header bricks, says 1810; while the western stone, an arched-topped tablet reads 18H10. The meaning of the H is not known.
The basement level has two rooms with a large service fireplace on the east side. The massive wooden lintel has been burned through, and the fireplace no longer can be used. The main entrance, a six-panel door sheathed with vertical boards on the inside, opens into a center hall with a single large living room on the east. An interior chimney serves its fireplace. The mantel is decorated with deeply carved fans radiating from the corners and similarly carved borders. A central frame holding a mirror seems to have had some sort of hinged cover. The area to the west of the hall at one time had two rooms, a larger room with a fireplace at the front of the house and a small room at its rear. These are now one large room.
Simple stairs with slender, square balusters rise to a landing with a window, then reverse direction and continue to the second floor. Two small rooms are on the west, one with a fireplace. The east room is dominated by an unusual double mantel with a single fireplace on the left and a closed area on the right. This mantelpiece is elaborately carved with cartouches and fans.
Valentine Nicodemus had two sons, John and Jacob. In 1829, John built the mill close to the road and extended the tailrace through his father’s land some 300 feet. When Valentine died, his will left his home farm of 166 and 1/2 acres to Jacob and his will read …Whereas, I have deeded to my son John a tract of land (175 1/2 ac.) heretofore equally in worth to the above…adjoining the same and whereas, my son John has took a tailrace through part of the land which I have hereby given to my son Jacob so it is my will my son John shall not at any time make said race deeper or in any wise larger, but shall have the liberty to clear said race where he may think proper without doing any harm on the lands of my said son Jacob.
John’s son John Luther Nicodemus took over his father’s business in 1854 and some time later attempted to build a culvert to carry a small stream over the tailrace rather than into it to prevent debris from accumulating there. This provoked a court case in 1875 between John L. and Jacob in which the court found for Jacob.
The brick extension of the house, laid in common bond, faces west with double porches under the main roof span. John Nicodemus probably added this wing after he inherited the house. The first floor of this wing holds the dining room and what was once the kitchen with its cooking fireplace. The second floor has two bedrooms, one with a door to the upper porch. A root cellar underpins a portion of the wing.
Karen and Larry Matson bought this property with five acres in 1970. It had been a tenant house for years, and most maintenance had been deferred. Thus began their nearly 30 year effort to rehabilitate the mill site. Larry restored the miller’s house, the little stone home across the stream from the mill. He pointed the stone walls with raised German pointing, recreated the porches, repaired the batten doors and built a new kitchen from old lumber. He tucked amenities in the tiny space and made it comfortable—a lovely rental cottage.
As they have worked, the Matsons have discovered evidence of the many dependencies that once filled the mill site. A cooper’s house once stood northwest of the mill. A blacksmith’s shop and a sawmill, as well as the buggy shed, hay shed, hog pen and chicken house were mentioned in the 1915 sale description. The land was steeply sloped and was extensively graded to make level areas for buildings and for roads. A long stone retaining wall edges the lane as it ascends to the main house. In this wall, near the house, are three sides of yet another outbuilding. Near this foundation, above the retaining wall, is the brick smokehouse, now used as a shed. Larry rebuilt the corner that had fallen in and replastered the interior as it had been, saving the signatures, Mr. L. Miller Tender, William Kauffman, Jerry Jones Builders Nov. 10 1879, scribed in the plaster.
Beside the house is a small frame structure, once the summer kitchen, that has become Larry’s shop. Down the slope in front of the house is a low, stone springhouse with a hip roof. On its east side, a shed roof shelters the spring as it rises from the ground and flows through the springhouse in concrete channels.
The wealth of original fabric in the house has been lovingly restored. The nine-over-six windows with their paneled jambs have been reworked. Floors were stripped of paint and refinished. The dining room floor was beyond salvage and had to be replaced with old random-width boards. The mantels were painstakingly stripped of layers of paint. Chair rail was replicated and replaced where it was missing. Iron box locks were repaired or replaced with locks of similar age. Original cupboards, tucked beside fireplaces, were lovingly reclaimed. The window on the landing that had been covered over when the wing was added was again opened to add light to the stairs. The double porches were rebuilt, new posts cut and chamfered, and balusters cut and fitted over the beveled bottom rail.
Through it all, they collected pot shards and mementos of the past: a tiny, hand-stitched ball, coins, all the pieces that they glued together to assemble an early slip-decorated bowl, a redware chamber pot and a milk bowl, small glass bottles and a stencil. From the miller’s house they saved boards stenciled with Spring Mill Flour – J. Nicodemus. One particular treasure was delivered by a stranger who had been going through the effects of a local Boonsboro resident: a photograph of the mill with its tall, stuccoed, stone foundations, frame upper floor and irregularly placed windows. In the background are several other outbuildings, and in the foreground is the early bridge with the dirt road twisting past the mill.
The years have passed swiftly. The Matsons have created a beautiful home, beautifully furnished with compatible antiques. It is a remarkable achievement.
Epilogue: The final room, the parlor west of the entrance hall, has been finished. Here the woodwork has been carefully stripped and repainted the original color. The window sashes, plastered walls, hearth and floor all needed restoration. An elegant slant top desk made by the Matson’s son Eric sits in one corner.
When David Gibney was restoring the date tablet on the east gable, he discovered faint lettering scribed into the plaster. In addition to the date 1810, the initials CBMPB and HIIB appeared on two lines above two rosette hex signs (to bring good luck) flanking a larger swirling swastika (to bring rain). But what do CBMPB and HIIB mean? Another mystery to solve. Nicodemus Mill was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on August 2, 2001.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, December 6. 1998 as the 110th in the series.