70 – Springfield Farm Barn, circa 1776-1880, Williamsport, MD

In 1987, part of Springfield Farm came on the market again. This farm, once the home of General Otho Holland Williams, the founder of Will-iamsport, was one of the first in the county to be nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  This  parcel adjoins Byron Park at the edge of town and was ripe  for devel-op ment. Torn between their budget and long-term goals, the town fathers finally felt compelled to buy this land to protect the park. Thus began an expanding effort by the whole community of Williamsport to build a town museum.

Otho Holland Williams was born in Prince George’s County in 1749, and his family came to the proprietary Manor of Conegocheig as tenant farmers in 1762. This tract, near the confluence of the Conococheague Creek and the Potomac River, the Manor, was set aside by Lord Baltimore in 1721 for himself. It was one of the earliest settlements in the vicinity. In 1764, both Williams parents died, leaving eight orphaned children. Mercy, the eldest, married George Ross, who assumed responsibility for the younger children. Otho, the second oldest, soon found work in the Clerk’s office of Frederick County and later at the clerk’s office of Baltimore City. Washington County was not divided from Frederick County until 1776.

Williams went on to distinguish himself during the Revolutionary War, where he fought with and later commanded a company of the Sixth Maryland Line. At the fall of Fort Washington, November 16, 1776, he was captured and remained a prisoner of war until January, 1778, when he was exchanged for a British prisoner. He rejoined the army, participating in the Battle of Monmouth and the Carolina campaigns, and attained the rank of brigadier general.

George Ross died in 1771, and his farm, Lot Two of Conococheague Manor, reverted to his brother and then to his nephew. In 1788, Otho Holland Williams patented this farm, Garden of Eden, and it remained his country home until his death in 1794 when it passed to his brother, Elie. Edward Greene Williams, the son of the general, then acquired the property as his home and called it Springfield Farm. Living the life of country gentry, Edward Greene Williams was known for the convivial gatherings he hosted at Springfield. He died in 1829, and the farm eventually passed to his daughter Mary Williams White. All the while, Springfield continued to operate as a farm.

In 1864, Charles W. Humrichouse, a Baltimore sugar merchant, purchased Springfield, then a little more than 211 acres, for $16,000. Under him, Springfield became a model farm, setting an example for the entire community. Humrichouse died in 1903, and his heirs sold the farm in 1948. It has been subdivided and changed ownership several times since.

The parcel that the town of Williamsport purchased contains the heart of what was once the large and successful farming operation at Springfield. There is an enormous eight-bay frame barn 56 feet wide and nearly 166 feet long with a raised-seam metal roof. The first section, built about 200 years ago and set on stone foundations, is a four-bay bank barn with two brick granaries. One of these has simple open brickwork ventilation holes. The other four bays were built in 1847 according to a Herald of Freedom article that reported several injuries when a scaffolding fell during the barn raising. Victorian trim and nine ventilators were added along the ridge of the roof in the 1880s. A 1920s concrete block silo, girdled with metal cables, was built at one corner of the barn.

The framework of the first barn is post-and-beam with five huge bents, held together by trunnels, carrying the weight of the roof and side walls. When the barn was enlarged, another five bents were added. After removing the siding from the gable end, the first bent of the new section was tied to the last bent of the original barn, creating a double bent in the center of the eight-bay structure. The floor of this new section of the barn is several feet lower than the first, with the last bay built over dirt. Another granary was built of block at the end of the new section, and the forebay was closed in during the 1950s as farming practices changed. Within the barn, the original cedar shakes are still visible under the raised seam roof, and the rail for the hayforks still runs beneath the ridge.

Beside this barn is an interesting slant-sided corn crib/machine shed, and attached to its southeastern end is what was once the milk house. The lower level of this end of the barn was once the milking parlor, and it is this area that has been reworked into the town museum. Original twelve-by-twelve inch beams span the ceiling, and original chamfered posts support them. Only a few of these structural pieces had to be replicated to replace damaged elements. The upper floor of the barn was replaced with tongue and groove flooring in order to provide a tight surface to insulate. New windows were installed in the milking parlor, and a new concrete floor was poured and topped with vinyl tiles. The space created retains the simple, functional look of the milking parlor while providing an inviting area in which to display photographs and artifacts from Williamsport.

Beyond the corn crib is a plain two-story weatherboard house. It is three bays wide and has a simple gabled roof over its door. This section of the house is built of logs. The windows have nine-over-six light sashes, and the interior framing around both windows and doors is unusual. It is a single piece of wood about six inches wide by two inches deep. The profile of this casing shows it to be slightly oval on the two-inch sides with a half-inch neck remaining squared. This casing has been mitered at the corners, with the wider side set perpendicular to the wall. The oval provides trim around the jambs and heads, while the rectangular section is fitted against the walls with the plaster extended over it to meet the oval. This way a single piece of wood forms the frames around the windows and doors.

One chimney in this four-room section of the house serves a fireplace on each floor, with a simple mantel on the upper one. The two-story, four-room wing behind the log section has two-over-two sash windows and a double porch along its southeastern length. It is balloon framed. The roof ridge of this section is higher than the original roof and is joined to it with a clipped corner. There are narrow, steep stairs in each of these wings.

Behind the newer wing of this house is a two-story brick structure with a loft and nine-over-six windows, indicating a construction date of the late 18th or early 19th century, well before the wing, which connects to it now. The wall facing this wing is open on half of the first level, and this section contains a low oven of some sort. The low door opening into the oven was long ago bricked over, and the firebox door is not readily apparent. It is difficult to figure out how this oven was used. A small room to the right of this oven has steep stairs leading to another room above. Above the oven is a smokehouse with its meat hooks still in place. A ladder is the only entrance to this smokehouse.

The house is no longer occupied, and both of these small buildings are waiting to be restored. There is a plan for restoration of all the buildings, but it must await funds. The Mayor of Williamsport John Slayman hopes that this complex will become museums for some of the many private collections in Washington County and so provide a glimpse of life in the county during the last two centuries while preserving a special piece of Williamsport’s history. Some day nine new ventilators, built to resemble the ones that had to be removed, will again line the ridge of the barn.

Epilogue: The farmhouse continued to deteriorate and was a serious concern. Finally the town council offered it for a curatorship, and in 2001, Patricia France agreed to repair and restore the house within the next three years. She will spend no less that $40,800 and no more than $60,000 and will have the use of the house for ten years. 

This article appeared in the Herald Mail Sunday, July 2, 1995 as the 70th in the series.