133 – Seven Gates Farm, circa 1820, Keedysville, MD
At the western edge of Keedysville, on the north side of Main Street, a small farmstead is settled behind a wooden fence. Large trees shade grounds divided into gardens by hedges and boxwoods. Paths lead from quiet spaces to small formal areas and accessory buildings. Decorative pieces of architecture and antique garden tools catch the eye throughout the farmstead. Two original outbuildings, a German-sided wash house and a log smokehouse, stand behind the house. Just to the west of the house is a cistern with a pulley hanging from the protective roof above. The four-bay house is log cased in brick. It has a front-sloping roof and windows with six-over-six sashes. Chimneys rise inside either gable end, and a three-sided bay window expands the west side of the first floor. A shed-roofed porch, supported by chamfered posts, crosses the first story of the front façade. A transom, with twelve small lights, tops the five-panel front door, both probably dating from around 1840. A two-story wing with double porches on the west extends to the rear of the house. It is a simple house, without pretension, built to shelter a family.
This small parcel was once part of an 80 acre farm belonging to Jacob Hess, builder and owner of the mill around which the town grew. This milling operation dominated the community well into the 20th century. Early deeds state that the farm was part of original land grants called Resurvey of Fellfoot Enlarged and Hills and Dales and The Vineyard. In 1833, three Hess heirs, two of whom had moved to Ohio and Virginia, sold this farm to George Geeting, Sr., for $2,800. The deed …grant(ed) unto George Geeting the privelege (sic) of making and using a road to Little Antietam Creek… indicating that the parcel did not include access to the waterway. To protect his millrace and tailrace, the owner of the mill probably retained control of the creek for some distance both above and below the mill. Twenty years later, Geeting’s heirs sold the farm to Simon Wyand for $6,758.56. As the generations of Wyands divided the land, the farmstead finally was left with a little less than an acre of land.
In 1984, after sitting empty for two years, the property passed out of the Wyand family’s control for the first time in 131 years. Dean Johnson, who was looking for a quiet place to live, saw possibilities in the little home in Keedysville and purchased it. Dean and his partner James Cramer have been editors of Country Garden and of Country Home, contributing many articles to these magazines. They brought their particular creative genius to the task of restoring the neglected house and its grounds. Their efforts not only restored the property, but also resulted in two books, Seasons at Seven Gates Farm and Window Boxes Indoors and Out.
The house was originally laid out with two rooms, side by side, on the first floor. Box locks hold most doors, and one is marked Eagle Improved Lock #60. The front door opens into one of the original rooms, now furnished for dining. The bay on the left expands this narrow room. A simple mantel decorates a fireplace that is now closed with a wooden cover. Beyond the fireplace, closed stairs to the second floor enter the room. Woodwork is simply molded with plain corner blocks. Interior doors have four panels. First floor ceilings have been stripped of their plaster to reveal the joists above. Laths that held the plaster were hand split. Floors have been stripped and left bare of finish.
The other original first floor room has been divided in two. The small living room is furnished simply. An upholstered loveseat under a white slipcover faces a pair of antique painted Windsor chairs across a small table. The shallow fireplace, near the dividing wall of the room, has a simple mantel and a brick hearth. Behind this room, in the other part of the original east room, is the laundry and bath. The woodwork on the first floor is painted a dark gray, and the walls are white. This muted palette is continued in the white-painted antiques and the ironstone pieces that decorate the rooms.
At the rear of the main block, and two steps down, is the kitchen wing. A large cooking fireplace centers on the north wall and now burns with gas logs. An old stone sink, brought from England, sits atop an antique feed bin that has been translated into a small kitchen island. Log walls have been exposed. The French corner that joins the addition to the main block of the house can be seen. Linoleum has been removed and the original unfinished floor is revealed. A narrow back stairway rises against the wall between the wings. To the west, a door opens onto the lower porch, and another doorway opens into the pantry. To the east, four large windows look out into the garden. A door opens into a fenced dog yard that is spread with pea gravel, decorated with antique architectural pieces and charmingly planted with boxwoods and other ornamentals.
Upstairs, three bedrooms fill the second story of the main block of the house, while a large workroom extends above the kitchen. This room is frame construction above the log kitchen below and seems to have been cobbled together from various parts. Only two of the five openings have the same trim moldings; each of the others is different. The steep kitchen stairs come through the floor next to the south wall of the room. A tapered, chamfered post, probably recycled from a porch, holds two horizontal slats that guard this opening.
Bedroom walls are painted gray and the woodwork white. Earlier owners had painted the edges of the floors around the linoleum rugs that once covered them. Dean and James have stenciled patterns and added muted stripes to these early painted borders to incorporate them into their own decorative design. The house is furnished with simple, primitive pieces of furniture. Many still display their original coats of white or gray paint. Collections of early implements, handmade dolls, toy log cabins and pages from a century-old book of botanical specimens, collected locally, decorate the house.
The gardens are the glory of Seven Gates Farm. Large flat stepping-stones that had been buried beneath decades of debris were dug up and reset. The wash house has been restored and furnished with a table and chairs set before the large fireplace. It is decorated with antique garden tools and plants. Unusual specimen plants and heirloom varieties fill small garden beds. An English cold frame shelters fall crops, and an ancient wooden wheelbarrow rests along the path. The log smokehouse, with its steep-pitched hip roof, has been restored and topped with an old finial. New structures have been added as well. A small barn with vertical siding holds tools, a small hexagonal dovecote displays several domesticated pigeons behind mesh walls and a many-windowed garden house has just been built. It will soon appear as the star of yet another magazine article.
The many skills of Dean and James have turned this small log house into a showplace. Their talent for using ordinary tools and accessories from an earlier era as decorative elements gives the home its unique charm.