53 – The Leiter House, circa 1846, Leitersburg, MD
It’s the gray house with blue shutters on Leitersburg’s Main Street just off the square–solid, brick, tucked right against the sidewalk. It’s a substantial home, made in two sections. The original block to the left, built in the middle of the 19th century, is three bays wide and three deep with two stories and an attic under a hip roof. To this was added, at the turn of the 20th century, a two-story, two-bay wing with a gable roof. Under the eaves is a brick cornice with corbeling and brick dentils. The windows have narrow frames of rounded wood and are topped by flat arches of soldier bricks. The foundation is built of large, carefully cut limestone and becomes a full story at the back of the house as the ground slopes away from the street.
The front of the house is part of the village street scene close to neighbors, while the rear of the lot falls away to gardens and dependencies with a distinctly rural flavor. There is a summer kitchen, with its large cooking fireplace. This small frame building has been converted into a comfortable summerhouse with a grape arbor sheltering three floor-to-ceiling screened windows. The property has three cisterns and two wells, one hand-dug and one with beautiful stonework, and the foundations for a barn and a blacksmith’s shop.
In 1762, Jacob Leiter purchased 362 acres of land patented as Resurvey on Well Taught, as well as an interest in a Resurvey on Well Taught then pending. Leiter completed this title and secured a patent the following year, increasing his holding by 1,294 acres. Jacob Leiter died in 1764, and his estate was distributed to many heirs the following year. His will read in part …I give and bequeath unto my two youngest sons, Jacob Leiter and Peter Leiter, the place of land whereon I now live, containing 362 acres more or less.
In 1802, the Nicholson’s Gap Road, the route from York, Pennsylvania, to Hagerstown, was changed to roughly that of present-day Route 60. And in 1807 the road from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, to South Mountain and Baltimore was opened. The intersection these two formed was a little southeast of Antietam Creek on Jacob Leiter’s original 362 acre parcel of land. In 1811, Andrew Leiter, grandson of the original Jacob and son of the younger Jacob, purchased the land around this intersection from his father. Four years later, Andrew, a blacksmith by trade, laid out the town of Leitersburg, 53 lots surrounding the crossroads. The 50 foot wide road to York became Main Street, and the 60 foot wide road to Baltimore became Antietam Street north of the intersection and Church Street to the south. Both roads have been realigned since they were first built. The York Turnpike has moved north to bypass the little town, leaving Main Street (now Leiter Street) much less traveled; and the modern Leitersburg Smithsburg Road nudged a little east after it passed through the square.
Lots in Leitersburg sold for $26 to $200, with lot number one going for the princely sum of $900, but Andrew Leiter died in 1818 nearly insolvent. He had been unable to repay his loans; and, in the ensuing litigations, a number of lots were sold at sheriff’s sale.
The brick house on Main Street was built by one of Andrew Leiter’s nephews Joseph Leiter, a builder by trade, who purchased the property in 1846. It was probably his grandson Levi Z. Leiter who built the addition about 1900. The most noted member of the Leiter family was also named Levi Ziegler Leiter. This Levi was Joseph Leiter’s other son who immigrated to Chicago and became a partner of Marshall Field in the department store of that name. Levi Leiter was enormously wealthy, and his daughter Mary married Lord George Curzon who once served as Viceroy of India. It was Levi’s money that supported the Curzons in India. As Vicereine of India, Mary Curzon had the highest ranking job in the British Empire ever held by an American.
There have been many changes in the Leiter house on Main Street over the years. During one ownership, the house was divided into apartments; and another living space was added in a shed-roofed addition at the rear. The lower porch to the rear of the house has been enclosed. Once there were double porches on the back of the addition at right angles to the other porches. These little porches have been enclosed and are now bathrooms. A garage is under the rear addition and a root cellar under the front brick addition.
There have been some close calls for the house as well. At one time, a carpenter was called to remove the original spiral winder staircase because it was no longer sturdy. He refused, recognizing the artistry of this hanging staircase, and repaired it instead. These stairs still creak, but they wind to the attic. Once a dormer at the front of the house admitted light to the attic, but that dormer has been removed. The many changes in the house have left it with a variety of woodwork moldings and doors with two, four, five and six panels. The wide heart-of-pine plank flooring is in excellent condition, and four of the seven fireplaces are in working order. The back of the entry hall has been walled off into a charming room. The original double parlors on the left of the front door have been opened into a large living room with a dramatic fireplace mantel, and the double rooms to the right of the front door in the addition have been made into a large dining room.
The present owners Jeannine and Pete Humphrey purchased the house almost twenty years ago. They have worked with all the changes in the house, furnishing it to be an inviting and comfortable home. The kitchens from the upstairs apartments were retained, nice additions to both the guest and master bedroom suites and the apartment in the rear addition is still there. The most dramatic change the Humphreys have made is to paint the exterior the soft gray that gives unity to all the additions that make up the home.
This is the only old house the Humphreys have lived in, and they feel a responsibility to care for it. “We learned early on,” said Jeannine, “that we don’t own the house; it owns us. It’s a great old place, and we’ve been happy making it our home.”
Note: The Book Mary Curzon is Nigel Nicholson’s recent biography of Mary Leiter Curzon.
Epilogue: Henry and Amy-Beth Garazo purchased the Leiter House in 1999 and have begun to make it fit their lives. Wrought iron gates have been placed at the entrance to the drive and the upstairs has been redone. The apartment has been removed and has been transformed into a modern kitchen and master bath.