92 – South Mountain Hotel, circa 1874-1890, north of Smithsburg, MD
High on South Mountain near Edgemont sits a solitary farmstead, dominated by a red brick house, surrounded by forests and orchards, isolated from any community, far from any highway. Jacques Lane, a private way, leads back from Leathers Road through a massive barn that spans this road leading into the orchard complex. The brick house is three stories tall. It has a mansard roof and a one-story wraparound porch with square pillars and scroll-cut brackets. Three bays, extending the full three stories, face the valley. The windows are arched with decorative, peaked hoods above them, and there is a broad cornice with decorative corbels beneath the mansard roof. Between the bays the porch shelters two entrances. These doors have long, narrow panels with arched tops and curved bottoms, finished with curved moldings. The doorjambs are decorated with similar oval panels. Twenty-four rooms fill this grand dwelling.
In 1874, John Albert Nicodemus purchased 100 acres of mountain land from John Oster and his wife. He cleared the land and planted it in apple orchards, part of the industry that was just getting under way in the area. Before 1890, he built the front (northern) portion of the house with its three bays overlooking the valley. Then a short time later, he decided that he would run a hotel while his trees were maturing. He doubled the size of the house by adding onto the rear of the original house. A grand stairway with turned balusters was placed in the center of this section; it rises to the third floor.
This third level remains much as it was when South Mountain Hotel operated. A central hall surrounds the stairway, with nine rooms arrayed about the perimeter. These rooms vary in size. The walls are plaster white, and the woodwork is painted white. Exterior corners of the walls and windows are covered with turned wooden corner moldings, and there are stairs to the roof in one of the rooms. There are no closets. Floors were covered wall to wall with woven grass mats when the hotel operated, and wardrobes were used. Several of these are now in service as cupboards for canned goods, having been equipped with shelving and relegated to the basement. Each door has a numbered oval metal plate; and each was posted with a printed notice that declared, …South Mountain Hotel, John A. Nicodemus, Prop., and the terms: $2 a day; $8 to $12 a week, including meals, all bills payable weekly. Meal times were also announced, and then the Maryland laws regulating innkeepers were quoted at length. The last act of these laws was dated 1898, suggesting that this was the era of the hotel. The third floor rooms were equipped with red and white striped awnings, long since worn out. It must have been a spectacular sight standing alone on the mountain.
Family lore says that the hotel was only operated for a couple of years. It seems that Nicodemus’s son Samuel, who would have been about 23 at the time, was spending too much time on the front porch entertaining the lady guests and not tending to his orchard duties. His father closed the hotel. Sam Nicodemus never married.
To the left of the hotel/home is a two-story rectangular building with a flat roof and a one-story addition on its left side. This building is clad in German siding, painted white with green trim. The windows have peaked trim over their lintels, and sliding doors on the east and south sides of this building are hung on exterior tracks with iron rollers. Within is an exposed summer beam held by a central, braced post that supports the second floor. At one side of the main room is an enormous wooden icebox with beveled mirror panels in each of its doors. This building was built as an apple-drying house with a boiler in the cellar that heated wire trays of apple slices and dried them into apple schnitz.
South of the house is a massive bank barn with large square cupolas. This barn is painted white with green trim, and there are stars that are outlined in green on the gable ends. The building that straddles Jacques Lane was part of the apple packing operation and allowed wagons to be loaded with the stored apples from the room above the road. At one time it held a steam engine that powered a cider mill and a Frick cooling system that chilled the storage areas.
John Nicodemus owned orchards in Winchester, Virginia, and in Zullinger, Pennsylvania, as well as the one in Edgemont. He continued to acquire parcels of land adjoining the Edgemont property until his death in 1916. Five of Nicodemus’s seven children survived him. His three sons, Charles at Winchester, Edgar at Zullinger, and Samuel who had worked with his father at Edgemont, inherited the orchards under their care. (Late in life, Edgar married Emma Geiser; and they gave the town of Waynesboro the beautiful farm museum Renfrew.) Samuel Nicodemus died in 1939; and Denton Jacques, son of Samuel’s sister Margaret, was called back from college to take over the orchard.
The Jacques family has lived in this area since the 18th century. This family name is French and would be pronounced “Zhahk,” but the pronunciation has been Anglicized to “Jakes” in Washington County.
When Denton married in 1943, his bride Marguerite came into a home that had been ignored by its bachelor owner for many years. Because there was so much space, whole rooms were used for storage: one room had hams and bacon hanging from hooks in the ceiling. The kitchen had been placed in what must have been a large reception room on the east side of the entrance hall. Marge made this room into the dining room and moved the kitchen across the hall into a smaller space. She cleaned and papered, painted and repaired. She created a comfortable home for her growing family.
When Marge’s mother grew old, an apartment was made for her in the original section of the house. Later Denton and Marge’s son Brian married after his grandmother had passed away, and he redesigned her apartment for his new wife and himself. Brian and his brothers, Denton and John, all have their own homes nearby now, and their parents live in the great house alone. Their lives revolve around the orchard, but the old hotel has found its place as the comfortable home of John Nicodemus’s grandson.
Epilogue: Denton Jacques died August 3, 1999. As Marguerite Jacques took stock of her life and decided what to do, she finally turned to her old house and told it that its day had come. “What had been John A’s folly will become Marge’s legacy! My life as an orchard wife has been an uphill battle all the way. When I came to this house in 1943, at age twenty, it was a mess. As late at 1968, on Brian’s tenth birthday, ice on the roof pushed up the tin. I woke up on a Sunday morning to find water running through the roof, through the third and second floors and down the wall of my recently papered living room. The old house has always resisted any changes or improvements that I tried to make, but it’s mine now, and I can do as I please with it, and I want to leave something great.”
Marge has replaced the siding on the summer kitchen and is completely remodeling the kitchen in the house, from the bare bricks out. In the spring the original porch floor will be replaced. But her major project will be renovating the third floor of the hotel into a nine-room apartment with insulated walls and electric heat. She wants to make sure that the house survives and she wants it to be owned by Jacques, so her two grandsons, Denton Jacques III and his brother Jason will inherit South Mountain Hotel. “My aim is to leave the property to my grandsons in better shape than I found it, and I will.” Marguerite Jacques
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, June 1, 1997 as the 92nd in the series.