44 – Cynosure, circa 1850-1875, Hagerstown, MD

There is, on North Potomac Avenue, an ample brick home set well back from the public way in a lawn shaded by grand old trees. Painted white, this home presents a wide, somewhat Italianate façade to the public. On the right is the gabled main block of the home, four bays wide, with a veranda and a welcoming entrance door with transom and side lights, set under a segmental-arch. To its left, set slightly back, is a four-bay wing with a two-tiered porch. An entrance, similar to the other, accesses this area of the house.

The second floor of the main block of this house has two windows; and above, centered in the gable, is a large, louvered opening with a peaked lintel, flanked by two narrow, pointed-arch windows. This configuration is duplicated on the other side of the attic, and it provides ample ventilation in warm weather. On the right side of the house is a one-story sunroom that exits into a porte-cochere. This large home has been divided into two living units, the main block with twelve rooms and the north wing with ten.

The 1804 deed to this property describes 178 acres made up of parts of three patents, Simon’s Rest, Addition to Catharines Part and Locust Bottom, and transfers title from John to Daniel Middlekauff. Daniel sold some parcels but transferred the major portion of the tract to Joseph Middlekauff in 1846 for $9,100. It was during the Middlekauff ownership that the house was built. In 1876 John Wiles purchased the property for $15,797.31. Two years later, he sold part of the land and the buildings to Jacob Dunkle for $9,301.10. In 1887 William C. McKee paid $12,000 for 76 acres. At that time the tract was listed as parts of patents Settled in Time and Locust Bottom and was described as being about a mile north of Hagerstown on the Leitersburg Pike and the road to Fiddlersburg.

Mr. McKee sold 60 acres to the Hospital Association, and when he died in 1917, his properties were advertised in the paper. The HOME PLACE with its eight acres was described as: …two story brick, 13 rooms, hallways, attic and cellars heated by hot water, has electric lights in it–also has good sized barn on the land, wash house, ice house, chicken house, hog pen–2 cisterns at the house, one at the barn. This is one of the most attractive and beautiful suburban places about Hagerstown. The land is susceptible of being subdivided into lots or parcels for development and building purposes. The growing corn and potatoes on the place are reserved with right to cultivate and gather same.

The house did not sell in 1917, probably because no one offered the ten to twelve thousand dollars it was believed to be worth. It was lived in by various family members, became involved in an equity case among the heirs and was finally sold in 1924 to Lancelot Jacques, Sr., for $40,000.

Built in the third quarter of the 19th century, this large home has grown and changed over the years and shows a different look on every elevation. The south side, behind the sunroom and the porte-cochere, is a typical Gothic Revival three-bay façade with the steeply pitched cross gable at the attic level. When it was first constructed, the building may have faced south, toward the town.

The north side of this home, the end of the wing that faces McKee Street, has two additions extending it to the rear (east) of the home. The first is a narrow two-story wedge that follows the rake of the gable. Beyond that a one-story addition extends nearly the width of the original wing. All the windows have segmental arches and six-over-six sashes which reflect the curve of the arch in their upper members. Many of these windows have original glass in them. Scrolled brackets support the overhanging cornices.

The primary door of the south section of the house enters a large reception hall with a ceiling over ten feet tall. The stairs rise to the left, crossing a window. The newel post is heavy and deeply turned; and the balusters, which carry the undulating handrail as it curves to the second floor, are also turned. The risers of the steps are decorated with delicate, stenciled patterns. Opposite the front door, two French doors open into the dining room. There is a fireplace with its original mantel on the right-hand wall. A narrow cupboard is built into the chimney breast, and a china closet with open upper shelves flanks the fireplace on the right. The woodwork is broad and edged with a wide flush bead, and the original interior doors have four raised panels. To the right of the dining room is a large living room that was once two parlors. Both rooms are decorated with a band of stenciling beneath the cornice moldings. The living room opens into the plant-filled sunroom, and then exits into the porte-cochere.

When Ralph and Andrea Chapin, with their son Ryan, were in the process of buying this home in 1980, there was so much interest among both friends and strangers that they named the property Cynosure, meaning a center of attraction. Andrea did the stenciling in the house, and it is filled with the lovely baskets and the needlework she had made. The house is furnished with treasures passed down from both sides of the family, gifts from friends and pottery made by Andrea’s mother. It is bright, airy and filled with color.

When the final eight-acre section was subdivided, Cynosure was left with an odd shaped lot: two rough rectangles, connected at one corner, lying at right angles to one another. The main section contains the house with the driveway entering from Potomac Street and curving behind the house to exit on McKee Street. This yard holds formal plantings and a charming herb garden surrounding the brick patio and walks in the back. The other section of the yard holds a three-car, frame garage and three timber-edged vegetable gardens. There are raspberries, a strawberry bed and a rose garden beside the drive. This lovely home is a monument to the family who has made it so livable.

Epilogue: The herb garden was renewed as was the house in preparation for Ryan’s wedding in the summer of 2001. He and his bride Wendy now occupy the ten-room rental apartment next to his father.

This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, March 7, 1993 as the 44th in the series.