111 – Dr. Smith’s House, circa 1880, Boonsboro, MD

In 1797, on a tract of land called Fellowship just west of Turners Gap, brothers William and George Boone laid out lots for a community they named Boons Berry Town. Boonsboro grew slowly until the early 19th century, when the National Road pushed through from Baltimore to Indiana.

Dr. Edgar T. Smith was a physician, third in his family to be a doctor in Boonsboro. Dr. Otho Smith, Edgar’s grandfather, settled here in 1833 and retired in 1866, leaving his practice to his son-in-law Dr. John M. Gaines. Edgar Smith read medicine with Dr. Gaines and took over his practice in 1893. Dr. Otho Smith lived and worked in the old stone house at number 32 on the west side of Main Street. Dr. Edgar Smith acquired property at 31-33 North Main across the street and cleared the existing structures before building his home there in the 1880s.

Dr. Smith’s house differs from most of the homes and businesses along Boonsboro’s main street. It is set back from the right of way, behind an iron fence, and has a small, elevated yard with limestone steps leading from the street. It is a gracious frame house on stone foundations, carefully made with beautiful details in the Queen Anne style. A one-story porch wraps around the south side, supported by bracketed posts. Windows have single lights in the lower sashes and upper sashes framed by small panes of colored glass. Shark’s tooth moldings decorate the lintels above all openings, and three bays project from the front and sides of the house. The slate roof has crossed gables and multi-paned half-round windows set in the front facing gables. Twelve stylized crosses decorate the fascia of the uppermost gable, perhaps symbolic of Dr. Smith’s Roman Catholic faith.

A small pediment rises from the porch roof above the steps; and, across the porch, the main entrance opens into a foyer. This is an ample room with narrow beaded-board wainscot. To the left (north) a stairway rises to a landing, turns to follow the exterior wall to another landing and then continues to the second floor. A pocket door opens on the opposite wall into the living room. Beneath an elaborate wooden grill, a pair of pocket doors opens into the parlor on the south wall of the foyer. A fireplace with an incised, marbleized mantelpiece and an arched firebox angles across the corner. The original brass chandelier with crystal prisms hangs from the original plaster medallion in the center of the ceiling.

The parlor has a bay facing the street. It still retains its original plaster ceiling medallion and brass fixture. Another corner fireplace is set in the northeast corner of this room, backing up to the one in the foyer. The mantel is decorated with incised carving and faux marble painting. Floors and woodwork throughout the house are heart pine. Doors are paneled, and the trim around windows and doors has turned corner blocks. Hardware is cast brass with intricate patterns.

Behind the parlor is the dining room, once Dr. Smith’s office. It connects to the living room behind the foyer through an arched hallway. Patients entered the office from the porch through a tall door in the center of the bay on the south wall. On the north wall was a closet, presumably for medicines, that has now been opened into a passageway to the kitchen. The present doorway between parlor and dining room was added much later. The living room has a wide, rectangular bay on its north wall. Upstairs are four bedrooms and two baths.

Dr. Smith died in 1923. His widow remained in the house until 1946 when the property, now divided into two apartments, was sold to Amos and Margie Reeder. In 1971, a lot on Center Street at the back of the property was sold, retaining the right-of-way, and five years later the house conveyed to Margie Reeder’s children, retaining a life estate for her. George Karras purchased the house in 1985 and did considerable exterior restoration before selling it to George and Victoria Messner the following year.

George Messner learned that his employer was retiring the same week the Smith house came on the market. He would need to establish his own insurance agency and find a place to set up his office. Dr. Smith’s house seemed ideal. The necessary interior restoration was daunting; but the Messners decided that the location, the possibility of having a business and a home together, and the challenge of restoring a lovely old home was something that they wanted to do.

Ceilings were covered with drywall to smooth them. Walls were stripped, patched, and painted or papered. Woodwork was cleaned and refinished. The ornate brasses were polished and the floors refinished. The kitchen and bathrooms were completely redone. The walk to the side of the house was sloped down to the level of the sidewalk, and the two steps that were removed were placed at the curb beside the mounting block. Gardens were created and the drive finished in a new product that resembles laid stones. While working on the drive, a large, flat slab of stone was turned over to reveal a carved marble grave tablet inscribed, …a Memorial of Jeannett Yates Smith consort of Otho J. Smith who departed this life June 27th 1842 aged 24 years 8 month and 7 days. Apparently Mrs. Smith had been buried in the original Boonsboro cemetery, which was behind Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ. This cemetery closed in 1855, when the present Boonsboro Cemetery was opened. Mrs. Smith’s body was later moved to the new graveyard where her husband was later interred. Not knowing what to do with this now unnecessary grave cover, the family had turned it upside down in front of a one-story foundry that operated in the back of the building.

Originally, a porch with large windows filled the space behind the dining room. This has been enclosed and added to, making a business office for the insurance company. Two slender antique stained glass windows have been built in beside the fireplace in this room, and the long wall is finished with five Andersen windows with stained glass inserts. Polished granite tiles and carpet finish the floor. The summer kitchen has also been incorporated into the main house, and office space is included on both levels of this area. A new three-car carriage house has been added to the rear of the building. The whole house has been filled with period antiques, as the Messners have searched for the right piece for the right place. When they were finally able to finish the office space and move the business from the parlor, all the work seemed worth it.

Epilogue: Few changes have been made.

This article appeared in the Herald Mail Sunday, January 3,1998 as the 111th in the series.BookBanner