118 – Cedar Grove, circa 1760, south of Downsville, MD

Old houses and rural farmsteads dot the scenic landscape along Dellinger Road as it winds its way near the Potomac River. On the south a red brick house turns its gable end toward the road and its saltbox roof slopes to the west. A small, hooded portico shelters the door that looks toward the road. A broad, one- story, hip roofed porch stretches across three bays of the eastern façade. Irregularly placed windows have six-over-two sashes with heavy, plain, wooden lintels. Outbuildings are scattered around the house, and flower beds decorate the yard. A brick summer kitchen stands to the right, and a low, two-part stone springhouse nestles into the earth beside a small pond on the left. At the back is a great stone bank barn with two silos and modern additions substituted for its western half. The farmstead seems little different from its neighbors. Only its saltbox shape is out of the ordinary.

Things aren’t always as they seem. Inside, the house is finished with finely molded early 19th century woodwork around both doors and windows. One of the exterior doors has six raised panels and paneled jambs. Chair rail decorates most rooms, and a lovely mantelpiece finishes the stone fireplace in the living room.

A 1928 photograph of the house shows a log structure being clad in brick. Logs are round, and several distinct construction periods are displayed. The earliest section is a four-sided log crib that formed a single room with a loft (now the south half of the main block of the house.) A large stone fireplace and chimney column on the north wall of this crib has no seams, indicating that it was built all at one time. This masonry column has two fireplaces, a large fireplace in the original crib (now the living room), and another larger cooking fireplace on the opposite side of the column. When the first log crib was built, this fireplace would have been outside.

Next came a three-sided log addition on the north built around the large cooking fireplace. The third building period raised the south log crib to a full two stories. Then the roofline of the north addition was raised to the same height as the south, using logs of a much greater diameter. A lean-to addition, which raised the slope of the roof and extended its length, was connected to the west side of the log sections.

The 1928 photograph shows narrow, parallel strips of wood on an upper corner. These could be vestiges of lath for stucco. Stucco was often chosen to cover log houses in Washington County during the early and mid 19th century. The stucco might then be struck to resemble cut blocks of stone as an elegant finishing touch.

Charles Calvert, Fifth Lord Baltimore and proprietor of Maryland, issued a proclamation opening Maryland’s frontier for settlement in 1732. Four years later, he established His Lordship’s Manor of Conococheague to generate revenue by leasing land to tenants. This was one of 23 proprietary manors in the state, with only Conococheague Manor and Monocacy Manor in western Maryland. Generally, leases were for the life of the tenant and for the lives of two other individuals, usually sons. This arrangement allowed the lease to run for two generations if one of the sons survived the father. At the end of the lease, the land and all improvements reverted to the proprietor.

By 1767, Lord Baltimore had decided to sell Conococheague Manor. An inventory of tenements on the manor, State of His Lordship’s Manor of Conegocheige 1767, is one of the earliest documents describing settlement-period buildings in Western Maryland. Here the 80 tenants were named, and their improvements were described in the following manner: …99 acres, Christopher Plunk. Dwelling House 30 by 20 round logs, shingled. 1 ditto 30 by 18 hewn logs and shingled. Barn 60 by 28, round logs, shingled. 2 out houses, round logs. 8 acres meadow, a good spring. Orchard 200 trees. 40 acres woods. Land level. 1/10 rocky.

Tenant number 70 was Thomas South, who leased 104 acres at the rate of ten shillings five pence. South was noted as being about age 50, suggesting that he held a life lease. He had the following improvements: Dwelling house 25 by 20 Barked logs Shingled with stone chimney, out house ten by twelve round logs cabbin roof. Spring house ten by twelve (stripped?) logs and clapbd. Orch’d 100 trees no meadow, good spring just on the line 10 a. meadow unimproved, 60 a. woods 1/6 stoney. (At this time out house was any out building or even an addition attached to a building.)

This description fits the first section of Cedar Grove with its spring near a dry masonry stone fence that seems to mark an early property line. This house, then, is most likely one of the 80 tenements on His Lordship’s Manor of Conegocheige and is one of the earliest log structures in the county to survive.

The house was thoughtfully planned so that it could be enlarged as the tenant could afford time and resources to invest in it. The original single crib with loft could house the family in the initial stages of settlement, but the massive stone chimney/fireplace system is evidence that a grander dwelling was intended. This chimney with its double flue became the heart of the home as the structure was extended on all sides of it.

Conococheague Manor was obtained by John Morton Jordan about 1768 and was resold to the Ringgold family shortly thereafter. In 1808, Frisby Tilghman received 494 1/2 acres of the manor and its Number Five Reserve from his brother-in-law, Samuel Ringgold; and it remained in that family until 1840. An 1805 deed for property adjacent to Cedar Grove describes a line as coming from the …mouth of a small run flowing from a spring where William Davis Junior lives… indicating that Thomas South no longer held the lease on Cedar Grove at that time.

Frisby Tilghman completed his home Rockland on Sharpsburg Pike in 1803, so it is unlikely that the Tilghmans ever occupied Cedar Grove. It was, however, during Tilghman’s ownership that the finely molded woodwork was installed in the house. William Davis Junior was …supervisor of the road from the mouth of the Opeckon to the Manor Cross Roads… (today’s Neck Road), and it may have been that he or some other tenant merited such elegant interior trim for service rendered.

Joseph Emmert acquired 293 acres for $10,841 in 1840 and transferred it to Christian Lehman in 1845. Benjamin Crow bought the property in 1849 for $11,685. Crow’s 1878 will leaves everything to his daughter Mary Jane Barnet, excluding her husband Washington who had borrowed extensively from Crow and had not repaid his debts. Crow requested that his daughter would take care of his …unfortunate son, Benjamin L. Crow and will not suffer him to come to want. Apparently Benjamin L. was mentally handicapped in some way. Stories recounted in the neighborhood say that he was kept in the room with the large cooking fireplace and that he was chained, although otherwise treated kindly. A large metal ring is still affixed to the baseboard in the closet beneath the stairs of this room, and the doorknob is quite high, out of reach for a small person.

Larry Younker moved into the house at Cedar Grove in 1976 and purchased it four years later. The barn and additional acreage were acquired in 1982, bringing the total parcel to just under nine acres. Tons of debris were removed, and he set about restoring the buildings, replacing roofs, shoring up walls, cleaning the springhouse and clearing the pond. He treasures the original fabric that is left and makes sure that it is kept, while mourning some of the changes that have been made. Larry and Pat have opened the kitchen with a broad arch and have refinished all the surfaces in the house. Antiques decorate the rooms, and a soapstone wood stove provides heat in the winter.

Larry talks of future projects: fixing up the barn and replacing the windows with the nine-over-six sashes like the ones that were there in 1928. A lifetime of projects remain, but one of the most important things that the Younkers have done for their house is to have it thoroughly researched and placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. They have saved a very early piece of Washington County’s history, one that had been so thoroughly hidden by modern additions that it was no longer recognizable; and they have sensitively revealed it while still showing how the home has evolved over time. Cedar Grove is truly a treasure.

Note: Paula Reed, Sandra Izer and Douglass Reed did research for this article.

Epilogue: The stone wall along the edge of the property has been rebuilt and Larry has been working on the barn, replacing some of the main timbers. Parts of the original logs in the basement have been secured by adding oak rough-cut beams for support. Plans are in the making to dig out the spring area to get the spring flowing in the basement again. The storm windows on the house, which were installed in the early 1970s, have been removed and all the exterior wood has been painted.

This article appeared in the Herald Mail Sunday, August 8, 1999 as the 118th in the series.