117 – The Overbrook, circa 1793-1821, east of Williamsport, MD
On the south side of Spielman Road, a handsome iron fence separates a stone house and its garage from the public way. The ground slopes sharply down behind the house, then rises again beneath a massive stone bank barn to the west. In the valley between the barn and the house, a frame wagon shed sits near a hand-dug well that overflows into the streambed when the water table is high.
The house has a gable roof and quoined corners. A one-story porch shelters the entrance and several windows. Flat, jack arches with keystones top the openings on the first floor while simple stone work forms lintels above the second story windows. Openings are irregularly spaced. A second doorway has been filled with stone, and the small window above this is lower than the rest of the second-floor windows. All in all, an odd, rather unplanned face is turned toward the road.
The story of this house becomes a little clearer when viewed from the back. Apparently the road was moved, for the back of the house is obviously the original front. This façade has five bays with a center entrance beneath a pedimented portico still held by its original chamfered posts. The basement opens to the east of the porch. Beneath the modern metal bulkhead, an 18th century segmental arch tops the opening into the cellar. An addition on the east holds the original kitchen, with its huge cooking fireplace.
On June 20,1793, Perigrine and Elizabeth Fitzhugh of Queen Anne County sold 190 and 1/2 acres of land, part of the Resurvey on Chews Farm, to Peter Palmer for £100. While the deed mentions …houses, Barns, fields woods, ways, waters, Water Courses… the price would indicate few improvements on the parcel. The 1821 deed that passed the property from Palmer to Jacob Middlekauff mentions …part of Peter Palmers land whereon he now lives… and adds two small parcels of land, one of them part of Resurvey on Watersink. The price was $10,000. The property remained in the Middlekauff family until 1972. After several short-term owners and subdivisions of the land, Kay and Donald Boward purchased the buildings on a little more than twenty acres in 1984.
Many alterations have been made in the house. The original plan was rural Georgian with a center hall and two rooms on each side. The central stairs, once the focal point of the hall, have been removed and the wall between the hall and the southwest room taken out to give more space to the room, now the living room. The original fireplace and chimney cupboard dominate this room, but the firebox has been made smaller with modern brick. Butt ends of newel posts can be seen in the floor where the foot of the original stairs once stood. A closed stairway now accesses the second floor.
A number of early doors with six raised panels, several with elaborate, levered box locks, still remain. Many window sashes have been replaced with two-light sashes with arched tops, indicating a late 19th century installation date; but the wood frames are heavy and are joined together with pegs. Early peg rails with tapered pegs, upturned on the ends, are built into three rooms.
The two rooms to the east of the hall have been opened into a single, large dining room/kitchen. These must have been the formal rooms of the house, for the floor is laid with random-width chestnut boards. The graceful original mantel still decorates the fireplace in the dining area.
The original kitchen in the east wing is now a family room. The great firebox of the cooking fireplace has had a new fireplace built into it with new brick, but the massive wooden lintel still carries the masonry chimney column. An arched shadow on the outside wall behind this fireplace indicates that once a beehive oven stood in this spot outside the house. A steep, closed staircase leads from this old kitchen to the bedroom above.
The cellar is under the kitchen wing of the house, carved out of the bedrock on which the house is built. Another exit, topped with a segmental arch, opens on the east wall beside the fireplace foundation. Windows, now obscured by the north porch, still have wooden grills. The rafters supporting the floor above are close-set logs, flattened on top and bottom. Between these logs are large pieces of stone with smaller stones, mud and other debris tucked around them to insulate the floor of the house above. This puncheon insulation is not found in our area in houses built much after 1800.
The great bank barn is more than 80 feet long. In the north gable is a tombstone-shaped indentation. When Don asked what had been up there, a member of the Middlekauff family who owned the farm for so many years said that it had been a date stone, and the date on it was 1793. The interior of the barn is framed with hand-hewn posts and beams held together with pegs. When Don and Kay Boward purchased the property, much work needed to be done. Several outbuildings were so dilapidated that Don removed them. Former owners had reworked the fireboxes and removed the staircase. These changes stayed, but all the original detail that remained was saved. Floors were refinished; walls were patched and then painted or papered. Inside an early cupboard, the original Prussian blue paint can still be seen on a piece of chair rail. Gardens have been created. Kay found an iron fence at an antique store and had it installed.
Neither of the original patent names, Chew’s Farm or Watersink, seemed appropriate to the Bowards. They named their farm The Overbrook after the hotel that Donald’s grandparents George and Annie Boward operated on Cumberland Street in Clear Spring during the early 1900s.
Much of Washington County’s history can be seen in this old house, the way it is built, and the way it has been changed to meet new needs. It is said that troops camped nearby during the Civil War and that John Jacob Middlekauff walked over the fields behind his house to talk to Abraham Lincoln. Terry Ford, Aaron Middlekauff’s great-grandson, tells the story of his great-grandfather, then eighteen, sitting up on the bluegrass hill behind the barn watching the smoke rise from the cannons and listening to the guns fire during the Battle of Antietam. After the battle, he was asked to transport casualties. He took horses and a spring wagon to Bloody Lane where he loaded some of the wounded onto the wagon and hauled them to a hospital in a church at Lappans Crossroads. After making one trip, seeing the horrible wounds and hearing the wretched cries, he took the back road home through St. James across Reichard Road. He could not return for another load of injured soldiers.
A slave graveyard can still be seen in the overgrowth across the road; and according to Ralph Delauder, now deceased, Moses, the last slave to work on the farm, is buried there. It is all part of our past, and the Bowards are doing their best to see that it is preserved.
Epilogue: The house fits the Bowards and needs only maintenance now, so their attention is turning outside. The pasture is newly fenced and a thousand trees have been planted along the stream through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.