5 – Bowman House, circa 1826-1840, Boonsboro, MD
Boonesborough was a thriving community of five houses and 30 souls in 1796. Situated on the trade route through Crampton’s Gap in South Mountain, the town grew as the National Pike reached its borders in 1810. By 1820, a population of 428 persons and a booming economy served the travelers of the National Pike, which was now continuous from Baltimore through Cumberland to Springfield, Ohio. When the B&O Railroad was completed to Cumberland in 1842, the lucrative passenger and freight traffic was shifted away from the road; and the town’s merchants and craftsmen were then almost entirely dependent upon the local community for their livelihoods.
Traveling east out of Hagerstown on the Old National Pike (also called Alternate Route 40 and Boonsboro Pike), farms and homesteads of the 19th century appear on either side of the road—testament to the strength and will of our forefathers and to the strong economy they built. On the left, just after you enter Boonsboro, is the Bowman House, the only unclad log house in the town and now the home of the Boonsboro Historical Society.
Probably built between 1826 and 1840 by Jacob Powles, it was purchased by John Eavey Bowman in 1868 after he had returned from the Civil War. John Bowman was a potter in the Pennsylvania German tradition as was his father before him. He established the Boonsboro Pottery on the site and produced utilitarian redware items for the community until the turn of the century. He made jugs and crocks, pie plates, stove pipe fittings, bird houses, chamber pots, flower pots, saucers, hanging flower pots, sand blotters, pitchers, vases, toys, roach traps (a unique form), miniatures, banks and mugs.
At the time John Bowman started his pottery there were many other craftsmen in Boonsboro. A coverlet maker, a surveyor, a gunsmith, a pair of coffin and cabinetmakers, a glove maker, a photographer, a chair maker, a printer, a shoemaker, a tinner and carpet and rug weavers are listed in the records. The era of the individual artisan drew to a close with the advent of steam power at the end of the 19th century. When machine-made pottery and glassware came on the market, independent potters like John Bowman faded from the scene.
The gift to the Boonsboro Historical Society from the heirs of John Bowman’s widow, the Bowman House, has been reconstructed on the original site but has been slightly elevated to eliminate the river of water that would flow through the house from the back door to the front in times of flood. A modest home with the pottery sales room situated on the south side and accessed with a separate exterior door, the interior remains unplastered, showing the hand-hewn logs and chinking. Because of the needs of the Historical Society, the wall dividing the pottery shop and the parlor has not been replaced. Two simple fireplaces, one at either end of the building, are sources of heat and will soon be fitted with period stoves. This building is typical of log houses built in western Maryland during the first half of the 19th century. It has a hewed V-notch construction detail used at the exterior corners. Upstairs, the two windows at the rear are six-over-six sashes installed on their sides to create sliding windows. This was not an uncommon construction technique at that time, but is almost never seen now.
The Bowman House is an on-going project for the dedicated members of the Boonsboro Historical Society. A kitchen ell wing with a shed addition remains to be reconstructed. The pottery workshop and kiln need to be properly placed by an archeological investigation and then rebuilt. A privy, corn crib, fences, grape arbor and water source are left to complete this artisan’s home. A new wagon shed graces the back of the lot and houses a farm wagon that has yet to be reassembled and two, elegant late 19th century carriages that once belonged to a prominent local family. Recreation of the gardens has begun in the capable hands of Dennis Warrenfeltz.
Epilogue: The wall between the parlor and the pottery room was rebuilt long ago, and the kitchen ell followed soon after. The board of directors is ready to add a potting shed, privy and bake oven in the back yard soon.