93 – Oak Springs Farm, circa 1803, east of Clear Spring, MD
Along Clear Spring Road, a knot of farm buildings sits well back from the road among old trees and surrounded by a white board fence. This is the heart of Oak Springs Farm. The graceful, ell-shaped brick house faces toward a central yard, as do the other buildings of the farmstead. Immediately behind the house is a brick smokehouse. Further down the slope are a weathered brick springhouse and a pond that was recently built to relieve a swampy area.
Around 1803, John Kreps and his son, John the younger, began accumulating the small, contiguous parcels of land upon which Oak Springs Farm now lies. Most of these parcels were parts of original land patents called Pine Swamp, Resurvey on Mountain of Wales and Jones Delight.
By 1857, when Jacob Kreps (perhaps John the younger’s grandson) died, he owned 147 acres, 3 rods, and 30 perches of limestone land which was described in the sale notice as …one of the best and most productive Farms in the County. Improvements were listed as, …BRICK DWELLING HOUSE, A Tenant House, Good Log Barn, Wagon Shed, Corn Crib, Hog Pen and other necessary out-buildings, an excellent and never failing well of water with pump in it, near the Dwelling House, another pump in one of the fields for the use of Stock, etc. 2 Excellent Orchards of Good Fruit.
In 1869, to settle Jacob Kreps’ estate, the farm was sold to Joseph Gehr for $80 per acre, a total of $11,035; but it was back in the Kreps family in just a few years. There it remained until 1970 when Jacob Ankeney and his sister Edna Miller, grandchildren of Rudolph and Elizabeth Kreps, sold it to Raymond and Lolita Divelbiss, who had been living and working on the farm for many years.
The Divelbisses never cared much for the house. It was a place to live while they farmed, but it was drafty and cold and had few modern conveniences. Luckily, their son loved the old place and saw its potential. Raymond Divelbiss, Jr., took over the farm from his father and now lives in the house. Raymond has carefully restored the house and decorated it with family antiques and cherished purchases.
Much of the house is original. The west-facing façade is laid in Flemish bond. It has four bays with two central doors sheltered by a modern one-story enclosed porch that was added to keep the wind out. The original door on the right is broad, with eight panels, a large box lock and a stone sill.
Above most of the doors and windows of the house are jack arches, each made of seventeen bricks. These lintel bricks are eleven inches long, longer than the wall brick,and are slightly wider at their upper ends, making the top of each flat arch significantly wider than the top of the opening it surmounts. Each position in this arch requires different angles in the brick in order that the tops of the arches remain flat. Clay for the bricks was dug from a large pit that is still visible behind the barn. The bricks were then formed, dried, stacked and “burned” for several days.
The ell projects along the north side of the house and has a three-level porch on its southern side. Beyond this porch, a modern deck has been built in a shaded glade. Since the house sits on a slope, the basement of this ell opens at ground level. In this end room stands a handsome cooking fireplace. It is 30 inches deep with an opening five-and-a-half feet square.
Oddly, there are no halls in the house. The original front door, with its paneled jambs and a four-light transom, opens into the living room with its original marbleized mantel. From the living room, doors lead to the lower porch and into the dining room. The dining room, which straddles the main block and the ell of the house, opens onto the lower porch to the south. Originally the room to the left of the living room could only be entered by a door from the dining room. What was the purpose of such an isolated room at the front of the house? Raymond converted the front window of this room into the door that stands to the left of the original entrance. This improved the traffic pattern and created a comfortable work area for the kitchen that was then located in this space. The corner fireplace was replaced with a brick hearth for a wood stove. Five working fireplaces serve the remainder of the house.
Beyond the dining room, in the last room in the ell, is a small space that was once the kitchen. The cooking fireplace has been partially bricked in to make a smaller opening for the firebox. An old corner cupboard filled with antique kitchenware dominates one side of this room. This room opens onto another small modern deck on the north and also opens onto the lower porch on the south.
The second floor is reached by a closed stairway between the living and dining rooms. This stairway rises into one of the two front bedrooms. The railing is plain and the balusters slender and square. The master bedroom on the right also has a working fireplace and mantel with its original marbleized finish. A door from this room opens onto the upper porch. There are also two second-floor rooms in the ell. The larger has a door that opens onto the upper porch. Originally no door joined the front and rear bedrooms, leaving two suites of rooms that could communicate only across the upper porch. This was inconvenient, so a door was added. Steep winding stairs connect the back room of the ell to the original kitchen on the first floor.
In the attic the floorboards are fourteen inches wide. The rafters taper, widening two inches by the time they rest on the plates. The roof is raised-seam metal; but charred vestiges of the original shakes are reminders of an earlier fire. Bold letters on one rafter carry the curious legend, J W Davis Painter 1841 of Boston. Was Mr. Davis an itinerant painter, and what was it that he painted? Was he, perhaps, the first to paint the trim and interior of this fine brick house and thus deserving of note?
Soon the old springhouse will be restored, and a lifetime of other projects still remain. But it is a wonderfully livable work in progress, a real testament to the talent and energy of its residents.
Epilogue: The smokehouse has been restored and has a new roof. The beams in the springhouse had to be replaced and the loft floor taken up. Enough was salvaged to lay half the loft floor. Cupboards were also built from old floorboards and are being used to display antique pottery and dairy items. The interior brick and stone work was repaired and whitewashed.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, July 6, 1997 as the 93rd in the series.