71 – The Stillhouse, circa 1750, Williamsport, MD
Beyond the great barn outside of Williamsport, Springfield Lane circles into a hollow and into a cluster of buildings set among venerable trees. This singular spot is completely removed from the bustle of the town so close by. There, next to the great spring, which still rises beneath the stone springhouse, is the Stillhouse. This is one of the earliest buildings in the Springfield complex, and it certainly predates the farm itself.
Early records are fragmentary, and the picture they present is often incomplete. Philemon Lloyd’s 1721 map of the Potomac shows a sketch of a cabin on the east bank of the Conococheague where it joins the Potomac and describes this cabin as an Indian trader’s habitacon. Six years later, Indian trader Israel Friend received an Indian land grant of …200 shoots of the arrow… (about 72 square miles), which stretched from the Antietam to the mouth of the Conococheague and included the area that became Springfield Farm.
Since Lord Baltimore was not bound by Indian grants, he set aside for himself approximately 10,000 acres that he called the Manor of Conegocheig. Several years later he extended the Manor by attaching a three-mile boundary that he called The Manor Reserve. Lord Baltimore issued leases on various parcels within his 23 Proprietary Manors and Manor Reserves throughout Maryland and denied patent applications within these boundaries. In a survey of a land tract contiguous to Conococheague Manor, there is a reference to Store House Land. This reference coincides with the placement of the Stillhouse, so it is possible that this store house and the Stillhouse are the same building. Tradition says that Colonel Thomas Cresap occupied the springhouse, suggesting that these two buildings were the center of a fur-trading operation. It isn’t known who built the buildings, for the land had not been patented at that time.
The Stillhouse, built of stone with quoined corners, stands three bays wide, faces east and has a number of unusual structural features. A massive eave overhangs the front of the house about six feet. Beneath this eave, large, flat stones have been set in the ground, forming a patio next to the house. The main door opens into the central bay beneath a transom with four lights. In the right bay is a Dutch door with four lights in the upper leaf and a sliding panel in the lower one that could be pulled up and latched, to cover the glass in the upper window.
Above these doors, all across the front of the building are the ends of the wooden joists that support the second floor, now cut flush with the face of the structure. In the kitchen, which is entered through the Dutch door, the beams have been left exposed, revealing that every other joist was allowed to penetrate the exterior stone wall, undoubtedly to support a second story porch that originally extended the width of the house.
Vestiges of this porch appeared in a 1928 newspaper photo that shows a door in the central bay of the second floor (now a window) and a tiny porch in front of it with a dogleg stairway to the ground. Then, the house had doors in the right and left bays on the ground floor and in the central bay on the second. Since the framing of the present main door appears to be old, it may be that the left door, which appears to have a transom, was moved to the central bay sometime after 1928. The caption of this photo reports, …The last stillhouse in Washington County… where General Otho Holland Williams…made whiskey not only for his own use but for thirsty travelers and his distinguished guests. On the upper floors the general quartered his slaves…Remnants of the equipment used in the manufacture of the liquor are still in the cellar.
A 1930s stone wall finished with upturned, pointed stones–a picket wall–surrounds the front yard creating a formal entrance. The gable on the left is wood construction finished with stucco, and the small attic above it shows signs of a fire. The right gable is stone. Windows on the first two levels have nine-over-six sashes, while the third floor has six-over-six sashes. Frames are massive, some mitered, some pegged.
Within, just in front of the central door, is a small hall and a simple stairway. The floors are random-width pine. To the left is a dining room with an elegant old mantel recycled from another building surrounding the fireplace. Above the chair rail is dramatic reproduction wallpaper, while the dado is painted a creamy yellow.
The narrow kitchen has modern cupboards painted with a bright faux finish in ochre colors. The rear half of this floor is filled with a large living room with two exposed summer beams in the ceiling and a large fireplace on the right. This fireplace has a large wooden lintel with a narrow band of stone beneath it held by two flat, iron straps. This could have been done to prevent the lintel from catching fire or to damp down the opening to create a better draft for fires. The walls are exposed stone, revealing interior wooden lintels above the windows. No lintels show above the openings on the outside walls. Beyond this room is a mid 20th century one-story room across the back of the building.
On the second floor are three rooms and a bath. The doors have HL hinges, and walls in the room facing the stairway are stenciled. The master bedroom on the left has a fireplace with an original cupboard built in beside it. The window at the end of the hall, which was once the second story door, has jambs, which grow wider at the tops as the wall widens and slopes inward. It is not clear why the wall has such a decided inward slope at this point. On the third floor are three more rooms and a bath.
The basement can be entered both from a narrow staircase in the kitchen and from a wide door set half below grade on the left side of the house. Here an original summer beam supports new joists.
Linda and Joseph Powell and their daughter Megan purchased the Stillhouse in 1991 and are continuing to restore it. Linda stenciled the upstairs room, and they have added an herb garden of 18th century design behind the house. They are presently building a fence around their vegetable garden. The store house/stillhouse/slave quarters still has a place and a purpose as it is once again remade. The old place with the brooding brow has a special aura as it stands rooted in the 18th century and looks forward to the 21st century.
Epilogue: The Powells finished the Williamsburg flower and herb garden and have enlarged this area behind the house to include a small rose garden. Two other informal gardens have been constructed which provide blooming flowers from spring through early fall. One garden includes a bench for relaxing and enjoying the peace and beauty of the historic site.
This article appeared in the Herald Mail Sunday, August 6, 1995 as the 71st in the series.