125 – Clipp House, circa 1924, Hagerstown, MD

Stately homes set on small lots line both sides of Broadway, one of Hagerstown’s National Register Historic Districts. This urban streetscape, developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, provided homes for the substantial citizens of the middle class.

The house at 112 Broadway, an imposing brick structure set on stone foundations, sits on a lot elevated two steps above the street. The small yard is formal. Boxwoods line the walk, and a small flower garden circles an urn. A single-story porch supported by simple columns spans the front and wraps around the east side of the house. A cutaway corner finishes the west side of the house. The small pediment atop this cutaway is decorated with a delicate carved wreath and flowers. This corner device not only lends interest to the façade, it also admits more light to the house through the angled surfaces of its windows. The hip roof has dormers.

The main entrance of the house has two doors under a clear, beveled glass fanlight. Flanking the entrance are double windows with curved sashes in the arches above. Each sash is filled with a single pane of beveled glass. The doors open into a small vestibule with penny tiles set in a pattern on the floor. On the opposite wall, a single door with a pane of decorative frosted glass enters a vast reception room. To the left the staircase rises to a landing, then turns and goes to the second floor. The newel post is massive and squared, firmly anchoring the steps as they flare into the room. Tooled leather wainscot, colored a deep brown, lines the stairs. On the landing is a window with curved muntins holding panes of glass imprinted with a delicate floral pattern. This fills the stairs with light while obscuring the interior of the house from view. Floors are made of oak, and the woodwork is varnished chestnut, deeply molded with turned corner blocks.

To the left of the reception area, through a broad opening, is the living room with its corner fireplace. The mantel is imposing with columns at the sides and a large rectangular mirror in the overmantel. The hearth and firebox are finished with long, thin tiles glazed in a rich, mottled green. Double doors at the back of this room lead to the dining room. A bay window, still furnished with its original interior shutters, lights the room on its left. Wooden corner protectors with turned ends shield the corners of the bay from accidental damage. On the other two walls, doors with large, rectangular single-light transoms open onto the back porch and into the kitchen. The kitchen has new counters, cabinets and a center island. Doors enter from the reception area and the back porch and lead to a pantry area on the east, now converted to a bath. Back stairs rise steeply to the second floor, turning to run parallel to the front stairs and emerging next to these stairs.

This is a substantial house, built with fine materials and quality craftsmanship, typical of its era. Then owners expected to live out their lives in the houses they built, and they built the very best they could afford. Later generations describe them as being overbuilt, with joists that could carry far more weight than is placed on them and interior brick walls that both support the structure and retard fire.

In 1908 William H. Clipp purchased the lot on Broadway from the Washington County Hospital Association for $1,960. Mr. Clipp worked as a traveling salesman for J. W. Myers and Company, a wholesale grocer at 26 South Jonathan Street. The lot Clipp bought is 50 feet wide and 145 feet deep with a fifteen foot alley at the back. The deed specifies that a 35 foot strip on the south side of the lot shall have no structures erected on it. The community had moved away from the Federal convention of placing houses along the edge of the public right of way and now mandated front yards.

The construction date of the house is not certain, but some records indicate that it was built in 1924, well past the Victorian period, but still incorporating many of the elements of that era as well as some of those of the Craftsman and Colonial Revival periods that followed. The Clipps remained in the house for the rest of their lives, and in 1991 their heirs sold the home to James Neill. Neill undertook an extensive restoration of the home. The double porches across the back of the house became access for rental units that he installed on the upper floors. In 1999, Judith and Mark McLean became the third owners of the house.

The McLeans had fallen in love with Victorian homes and purchased such a house in Baltimore City. For four years they worked with the city and within their neighborhood to create the life they wanted. Finally, they gave up, unable to cope with the petty thievery and the lack of government services and support. Again, they looked for an urban environment and a Victorian house. Their search led them slowly across the state to the house on Broadway. Judith is a minister in the Divine Light Center, an affiliate of Light of Christ Community Church in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and does family life counseling. The apartment on the second floor is ideal as office space for her; and a special exception was granted, meeting the requirements of the historic district.

James Neill had done most of the restoration work, and it was up to Judith to fill this space with period wallpapers, fabrics and furnishings. The results are elegant. The first floor’s natural woodwork and architectural detail are enhanced by the patterns of the reproduced Victorian papers. Windows are lightly draped, and the rooms are filled with light.

On the second floor, the woodwork is simpler and has been painted white. Three bedrooms have been furnished, and the fourth is the office waiting room with its separate entrance from the porch. Stairs lead to what once was the attic, tucked under the steep hip roof. The main space has a high ceiling, sloping walls that follow the line of the roof and two skylights. Enclosed rafters span the room. Another small bedroom with an original round window, a bath and storage space complete this level.

At the back of the lot is a brick garage with a hip roof and a chimney, indicating that it was once heated. Here, Judith has begun to create a period garden. Herringbone brick margins have been added to the walk and boxwoods planted beside it. The McLeans are settling into their new home and their new community. It all fits.

Epilogue: The McLeans have painted the house, stripped carpet to refinish the hardwood floors beneath and continued to wallpaper in period paper. Also completed is the period garden with a wooden fence surrounding the yard. The handsome house is a serene backdrop for their busy lives.

This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, March 5, 2000 as the 125th in the series.