41 – Dr. Gaine’s Mansion, circa 1890, Hagerstown, MD
The mansions along the west side of North Potomac Street sit far back from the public way; large, imposing structures shaded by huge old trees and surrounded by lawns that sweep from the top of the ridge to the road. Number 465 is a massive, white painted brick structure on stone foundations with steep-pitched gables and tall chimneys decorated with shallow brick pilasters. A bay extends to the right and a porch wraps to the left.
In 1880, Hagerstown had a population of 6,627, and the village ended at North Street except for a very few large houses along the west side of Potomac Street. Fanned by the growth of turnpikes and railroads, there then began the most prosperous period in the history of the town. In the next ten years, the population nearly doubled, and it became the second largest city in the state. Owners of prosperous businesses and manufactories built homes in the 400 block of North Potomac and the 600 block of Oak Hill Avenue. It was into this milieu that Dr. Gaines moved.
Born in Culpeper, Virginia, Dr. John M. Gaines was 22 years old when he served as a surgeon with General James Longstreet’s First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. After the war, Dr. Gaines settled in Hagerstown and established his practice. In 1890, he purchased the lot on North Potomac Street from Margaret A. Davis. Construction began shortly thereafter, with Dr. Gaines supervising closely and demanding that work that did not meet his standards be done over. The building was completed the following year. Dr. Gaines, his wife Susan Rench Gaines, their son and three daughters lived in the house for a number of years. In 1915, John Gaines died at his mansion; his widow and daughter Sarah inherited the house and continued to live there.
The following year, Sarah and Harry Humrichouse of Springfield Farm in Williamsport were married in the parlor of her home on Potomac Street. In 1918, their daughter Elizabeth was born at home. Harry Humrichouse died in 1926. Eight years later, his wife and daughter moved to smaller quarters and rented the family home. Dr. Gaines’s will had entailed the property, preventing its being sold until after Sarah’s death. So it was not until June 1966, that the mansion was sold to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation for use as their meeting place.
The front door of the mansion opens into a broad center hall with a ceiling over ten feet high. The woodwork in the front section of this story is formal, with fluted pilasters beside the doors and twelve inch mopboards decorated with horizontal fluting. Windows have six-over-two sashes, many with original glass panes, and stone sills. Moldings at the ceilings are slightly dropped so that they can hold hooks for picture wires. The doors have six rectangular raised panels, arranged with a horizontal panel at the top of the door, three perpendicular panels in the middle, and two horizontal panels at the bottom.
To the left of the entry hall is a small room with the woodwork stained mahogany. This had been the Gaines’s library. The fireplace has a tall mantel with pillars at the sides, two shelves and four raised panels at eye level. There is a cast-iron inset in this firebox to accommodate a coal fire. Behind this room is another small room with a fireplace and an entrance off the porch. This once served as Dr. Gaines’s office. To the right of the hall is the parlor with cherry woodwork. The mantel, now painted, has applied carvings and dentil molding around the shelf. Behind the parlor is the dining room, with oak woodwork, paneled wainscoting and yet another style of mantel–six feet tall with a large, beveled, rectangular mirror under the shelf. Beyond the dining room is the kitchen. Here the painted woodwork is deeply molded, with turned corner blocks. At the end of the entry hall in the center of the house, between the two sets of rooms, is the main staircase–massive and square, ascending at right angles to the hall. The balusters are delicately turned oak, and the newel posts have dentil trim and beadwork with large knobs at their tops.
Lovely as the public areas of this home are, the private ones are even more interesting. The second floor has four large bedrooms, each with a fireplace, and two smaller rooms. On the second floor, the four mantels are the same; and the woodwork, simpler than in the formal rooms downstairs, is made of poplar with shallow molding and corner blocks. The doors have five raised panels, and the doorknobs are wood rather than brass as they are downstairs. Outlets for gas lights protrude from the walls, and the remnant of a speaking tube–an early attempt at an intercom that once connected the bedrooms with the kitchen where the servants worked–can still be found.
The mansion is heated with radiators, all beautifully cast, with Grecian and floral motifs. The original furnace was a coal-fired forced hot water system; and in the fall, the Gaineses would order 22 tons of coal to be delivered to two bins in the basement. Another order of ten to fifteen tons would be made in the middle of the winter. The goal was to burn all the coal during the season so that the bins and the basement could be thoroughly cleaned of coal dust and soot in the spring.
The back stairs, narrow and steep, lead from attic to basement. The attic, used for storage and servants’ quarters, is a warren of rooms with steeply pitched ceilings following the lines of the roof. The plaster is molded and curved to follow the walls. Two tiny balconies beyond glass doors, batten doors to the rooms and simple woodwork finish the attic.
In the basement, the walls are plastered. There is a laundry room with a deep, soapstone double sink and a chimney, with a thimble for the pipe from the stove where wash water was heated in copper boilers. Aunt Effie, the laundress, came on Mondays and Tuesdays to wash the clothes and sheets by hand, dry them on lines in the back yard and iron them with flatirons heated on the stove.
The basement exits to a closed area under the front porch. This area is four feet below the surface of the ground and looks out through the lattice work that protects the underside of the porch. The forward section under the main porch was strung with clotheslines for drying laundry during the winter months, and the area under the south-facing side porch had huge storage bins which were filled with apples and potatoes in the fall.
Behind the house is a small, square stone building with a steeply pitched hip roof, topped with a turned spindle. A double cross-buck door gives entry, and two small casement windows, secured with grills, admit light. Red ocher-colored raised German pointing separates the cut stones. This was once the smokehouse, and it is the only remaining structure of an extensive collection of original outbuildings. There once was a large barn at the back of the property, where Dr. Gaines kept both riding and carriage horses and a cow. There was a kennel for two large dogs, a pen for a flock of chickens and a privy. Until the 1920s, pork, brought from the country in a wagon pulled by a four-horse team, was smoked in the smokehouse and stored in a stone-floored room in the basement. Here, on a city lot, was an operating farmette!
The Unitarian Universalist Church members have been sensitive to the character of this structure and have retained much of the original fabric of the building. The pocket doors, between the parlor and the dining room, were removed to provide a meeting room of sufficient size for services. The porch columns were replaced with iron supports because the congregation could not afford to duplicate the originals when the deteriorated porch was rebuilt a few years ago; but little else has changed. Recently, the exterior of the building was extensively repointed, painted and is now fresh and well maintained. The interior is functional in its decoration, but retains most of the elegant detail of the original mansion. The members are sensitive to their role as stewards. Their bylaws call for them to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person; they also promote the worth and dignity of this old mansion.
Note: Elizabeth Gaines Humrichouse Werth, Dr. Gaines’s granddaughter and only descendant still living in Washington County and Maryland, gave information about life in the Gaines’s home.
After publication of this article, the following information was received from Boonsboro historian Douglas Bast. The first blood spilled in the Civil War was at Alexandria Virginia, when Colonel Elmer Ellsworth in command of the First Fire Zouaves of New York was murdered for tearing down a secessionist flag that was flying atop the Marshall House Hotel. The proprietor of the hotel, who killed Ellsworth with a shotgun blast, was immediately shot and killed by one of Ellsworth’s comrades. According to an obituary in the Hagerstown Globe, Dr. John Mutius Gaines was called in to render assistance after this bloodbath. Dr. Gaines was a young doctor who had just begun practicing medicine in Alexandria and was temporarily living at the Marshall House. Soon after this incident, Dr. Gaines joined the Confederate Medical Corps serving as surgeon with Pickett’s Division, Longstreet’s Corps.
The Encyclopedia of American Biography, Volume IV, reports that after the battles of South Mountain and Antietam, Dr. Gaines was captured and detailed to treat the Confederate wounded who filled the hospitals at Boonsboro. During this period he became acquainted with Boonsboro physician, Dr. Otho J. Smith, and soon fell in love with his daughter Helen Jenette. In 1865, after the war had ended, Dr. Gaines came back to Boonsboro, married Dr. Smith’s daughter and began a 30 year practice in the town. Interestingly, after the death of his first wife, Dr. Gaines married Susan M. Rench whose brother, DeWitt Clinton Rench, had been murdered by an angry mob at Williamsport, Maryland, after they had heard he was planning to join the Confederacy.
Epilogue: The Unitarian Universalist Church sold the building to Dr. Eugenia McGarry, and it is now again for sale.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail on Sunday, December 6, 1992 as the 41st in the series.