98 – Prince of Germany, circa 1810-1840, north of Smithsburg, MD
The house on Bradbury Avenue, along the fringes of Smithsburg, looks like so many other simple, everyman homes in the county. It sits close to the road, covered in cream-painted asbestos shingles, with simple, blue trim. The main section is a two-story, three-bay block with a story-and-a-half wing to its right. The front windows have two-over-two sashes, and its roofs are covered in slate and corrugated tin. This ordinary exterior covers an early 19th century log structure, a humble home that belies the royal name given to the land on which it was built.
In 1808, Frederic Fishack patented a 229 acre tract of land near the great cave, which he named Prince of Germany. An 1859 map shows a large tract of land on the east side of the road between Smithsburg and Ringgold (now Bradbury Avenue) still held in the name Fishack.
Around 1810, a 22 foot by 20 foot one-room pen of oak logs was built on Prince of Germany. It had two windows and a central door facing the early road. On the back wall were a door and a window, and two windows were on the south wall to the left. The north wall held a fireplace, but this was removed later and replaced with a chimney to service a stove. A small, stone-walled root cellar lies beneath part of the house.
Behind the house, a small, separate, frame kitchen was built. The shed-roofed smokehouse attached at its rear may have been original or a later addition. The brick fireplace in the kitchen has a firebox opening four-and-a-half feet wide and five feet high beneath a great, hand-hewn lintel. An iron bar is fixed in the throat of the chimney to carry the trammels that would hold pots and kettles over the fire. In the rear wall of the fireplace is an arched opening into the smokehouse that has now been closed; and, above this opening in the smokehouse, an irregular brick shelf that may have served to deflect the smoke. This opening is the same shape often used as a door into a bake oven. An oven may have originally been behind the kitchen, then removed, leaving the opening to admit smoke into the smokehouse.
At some point, a second floor was added to the log house, and a galleried porch was built across the back. The floor in this upper room is made of wide oak boards, some more than a foot across. Then, around 1840, a two-room post-and-beam addition was built on the south side of the house. The east room of this addition is now the dining room, and it has an unusual, small fireplace with an opening about two feet wide and three feet tall. This is finished with a simple wood mantel that has a single, raised panel above the firebox and a mantelshelf with dog-ear extensions at either end. The rear, or west, room of this addition has no fireplace. Rather there is an opening in the chimney for a stovepipe.
Entrances into these two rooms were made by opening the east window on the south wall of the log pen to become the doorway into the dining room. A new doorway had to be cut in the logs to serve the other room. To do this, the other window on that wall was closed; and the opening was moved a couple of feet west. This change is visible in the exposed logs of the original section of the house, which is now the living room.
The three rooms upstairs are entered by winder stairs in the corner of the back room of the addition. This stairway is enclosed with board walls and a batten door. A small batten door closes a closet under the stairs.
From 1844 to 1870, the parcel of land on which the house sits contained one acre and 140 perches. Five families owned the little house in those 26 years. Two of these owners died, and the property had to be sold to settle their debts. The 1870 deed describes the land as …being improved by a story and a half weather boarded house, stable and other buildings, and it brought $925 when it was sold to settle the estate of James A. Small, who had a wife and five minor children. The proceeds were not sufficient to pay his debts.
In 1884, Jacob Honodel purchased the property; and his son-in-law William Fiery probably renovated it, connecting the house and the kitchen, giving the house its present configuration. From 1844 until 1921, eleven families owned this property. Only three of these stayed ten years or more. People moved on from this house, up or down in the social fabric of their time; and many of them changed the house to meet the need of the moment. This was a home with no pretensions, probably built with no thought of lasting; but, through some quirk of fate, this simple home has endured.
The present owners, Carl and Becky Montgomery, bought this home in 1986 because Becky loves primitive log houses; and the little place, much cobbled together, was in sore need of their attention. A new front door was needed to replace the insubstantial one that was there. The logs were cut back, and a modern paneled door with sidelights was placed in the opening. The north end of the living room floor had sunk and needed to be replaced. The cooking fireplace in the original kitchen needed shoring up on its smokehouse side, for the soft bricks had crumbled from resting against its dirt floor. A new floor was then added. The log walls were revealed in the living room; and the original chinking, which had been made of horsehair, sand, gravel and clay, was replaced with a similar mixture. Original horsehair plaster was repaired, and iron hardware throughout the house was restored.
The Montgomerys removed the later ceiling that had been put in the kitchen, opening the space above. New windows were put in the pass-through room, and it was fitted out as a modern kitchen. Some electric baseboard heating was added; but, for the most part, they rely on the wood stove in the living room and the fireplace in the kitchen. In the dining room, there are only candles; and, throughout the house, their collection of early lighting devices is used and displayed. Becky’s collections of primitive painted furniture and early glass and pewter decorate the house. A special treasure is a trunk that Jacob Honodel once owned, which now resides in the living room. This humble house that has survived may yet have its exterior shingles removed to reveal the logs and German siding that lie beneath them. And Becky thinks about restoring the front windows with six-over-six sashes. She feels the charm that is inside should shine through for the world to see.
Epilogue: Thanksgiving 2000 brought a fire to the living room. After restoring the damage, propane heat with a log insert was substituted for the woodstove. Carl and Becky are now working on an early log house near Bakersville.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, December 7, 1997 as the 98th in the series.