132 – Criswell’s House & Broom Manufactory, circa 1820, Keedysville, MD
Keedysville is removed from the flow of modern life, a village strung along the steep banks of Little Antietam Creek, away from the main thoroughfare. In 1768, Jacob Hess acquired 150 acres of land along an early road that crossed the stream and then divided, going to Sharpsburg and to Williamsport. He established a mill on this land. Two of Hess’s cousins, Johan Heinrich Gutting (later Anglicized to Henry Keedy) and George Adam Guding (also spelled Geeting), emigrated to the area and purchased nearby land in 1767 and 1777. Geeting became one of the founders of the United Brethren Church.
Henry Keedy’s grandson John purchased the Hess’s mill property from Jacob’s heirs in 1833. The Boonsboro to Sharpsburg turnpike had just been completed, and Hess’s mill stood at the intersection of this new road and the old wagon road to Williamsport. John and his brother Samuel developed the community, and it was known as Centerville until a post office was requested in 1848. Then it was learned that another Centerville existed on the Eastern Shore, and the name was changed. Keedysville was incorporated in 1872.
The simple, German-sided house at 51 South Main Street is one of the oldest in town. Around 1820, a two-story log structure with two rooms on each floor was built on this site, but it is difficult to tell from land records just who built it. The small building was situated next to the road on land that includes springs and slopes to Little Antietam Creek. In 1855, Joseph Criswell, Jr., acquired 33 perches of land from William Blecker for $428; and, the following year, he paid Samuel Cost $50 for eleven and six-tenths perches. Together, these two parcels are 0.278 acre, roughly the same amount of land still associated with the property.
Apparently Criswell lived in the house, for a much later deed refers to …what is known as the Criswell house. It was Criswell who established the Broom Manufactory that appears in the Illustrated Atlas of Washington County Maryland 1877. He located this business in the eighteen foot by twenty-four foot two-story building next to his home at 47 South Main Street.
Frame wings were added to Criswell’s log house, probably after George Snively purchased the property in 1903 from Emory Pry, his wife and son for $500. The wing on the right of the log section is less than ten feet wide, but it adds another two rooms on both floors. The wing at the back added a single large room on each floor and galleried porches on its east side. This added another rental unit to the property.
In 1988, neighbors were taking up a collection to buy the property and bulldoze the buildings. It was then that Shannon French came to Washington County. A friend had seen an ad in a Frederick paper and had noticed that two houses were available for very little money. When Shannon was told this, she asked where. The friend said, “Keedysville,” and she responded, “What’s a Keedysville?” Shannon had little money and no job. She needed a place she could restore herself, so she came to see the property. She found two little ramshackle houses, sitting side by side and looking very much in need of love and affection. She didn’t really love the house, but she did love Keedysville. It had a wonderful feel to it, a sense of place; and so she bought the little houses.
Shannon had trained as an appraiser and realized it would take time to build her business. But first, she spent three months restoring the kitchen, a bedroom and cleaning the bathroom. Then she moved in, set up her business, and continued to work on the house as time permitted. The friend who had found the property for her bought the house next door from her because he wanted a rental property. This gave Shannon more working capital to restore her house.
A one-story porch with round columns extends across the front of the house. Windows have two-over-two sashes, and a squarish bay window protrudes on both levels just to the left of the main entrance. The door opens into the living room. The narrow board floors have been refinished, and the walls have been papered with bright colors and broad border patterns. The interior of the bay has been finished with narrow bead-board and painted a deep red matching the woodwork.
At the back of the living room, a stairway winds to the second floor; its newel post and balusters are square and solid. Two doors on the right wall lead to the two small rooms that have been made from the second room of the log house. At the rear of the living room, beside the stairs, is the door to the kitchen. This room, part of the turn-of-the-century addition, is furnished with new appliances, tiled counters, a wood stove and antique pieces. A door to the right opens onto the porch with its diamond-patterned, painted floor. The far end of the addition holds a small laundry and a half-bath.
In the narrow east wing, the first-floor room has been turned into an office. The walls have been dry-brushed a brilliant yellow and glazed. A broad paper border circles the room at chair rail level, and dark blue woodwork accents the room. Four years ago a sun porch was built at the back of this wing. Its floor is set with tiles, and its walls are painted the same brilliant yellows Monet used in his dining room at Giverney. A wall of windows looks out on a charming patio and the gardens beyond.
Upstairs are three bedrooms, all with original wide board floors and woodwork. The master bedroom, above the kitchen, opens onto the upper porch. The ceilings are only seven feet, two inches throughout the house, giving it a charming, cozy feel. Original materials of the house have been retained and refurbished. Brilliant colors and artistic detail accentuate the charm of this little home.
Four years ago, Shannon bought back the small house next door to make a home for her mother. The little building had been pieced together from parts of other buildings, a single room on each floor. The exterior was covered with asphalt shingles. Over time, it had been used as the broom factory, a chicken coop, a store and finally a tenant house.
Shannon gutted the building and added to it, but retained the basic shape of the little house. The asphalt shingles were stripped and the frame revealed. A new house was built in the old shell. Now topped by a steep-pitched, tile roof and sporting a chimney pot, the house has many English accents. Gargoyles peep around corners and peer over the door. An English coal stove sits in the living room. The house is designed for one floor living, but it also has a stair elevator to the second floor.
The space between the two homes descends with stone steps and small gardens to the stream. At street level, a brick paved parking space extends from the brick sidewalk in front of the houses. Shannon says, “When you buy an old house, there is an interaction, and you have to listen to what the house tells you.” She has listened very well. She has designed her house around her own skills and around what the house had to offer. She planned little more than she could do herself, and she has turned her ramshackle, unloved house into a charming home.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, October 29, 2000 as the 132nd in the series.