31 – Ashton Hall, 1801, Maugansville, MD

Western, or back view of Ashton Hall in Maugansville, MD

Western, or back view of Ashton Hall in Maugansville, MD

South from the crossroads that is the center of Maugansville, set well back from the road near new homes that are just now being built, is a five-bay stone farmhouse. Now situated at the end of a half-mile long lane in the level fields west of Maugansville Road, this old house and its acre of ground will some day sit at an intersection of two streets in this growing development.

The stonework in this house is skilled but eccentric. Generally coursed, there are numbers of large, triangular and trapezoidal stones used in the walls, set with their wide ends down. The corners of the building are quoined, and in a large quoin stone on the second story level of the north side of the front façade, the initials JCS and the date 1801 are inscribed. Roughly opposite this inscription, on another large quoin stone, four crude, overlapping X’s are drawn. Flat arches with keystones are set above the windows and doors. Some have five stones, some seven, one has six stones and two are formed of three large stones. The first floor is elevated to allow the basement to be lighted by small windows on each side. The main door, topped by a transom, is located in the center bay and opens into a large center hall that exits through a similar door in the back elevation of the building. Both of these doors have stone thresholds. On the left side of this hall is a broad open staircase that rises easily to a landing, reverses itself and continues to the second floor.

(click on any image for enlargement)

Ashton Hall Fireplace and Arch Cupboard

On the first floor, two rooms are on either side of this center hall. Each had a fireplace originally, but the one in the kitchen has been removed. Door and window jambs are paneled, and chair rails are decorated with diagonal reeding in the front rooms. The window frames are massive and pegged. Sashes have been replaced and now have two-over-two lights. Some original thumb latches remain on the interior doors.

The basement contains five rooms. A large spring is revealed through three openings in the concrete floor that was poured over the original brick floor. A massive cooking fireplace has had an iron stove added to its front. This stove could accommodate two large kettles in the round openings on its upper surface. Near a trough-shaped opening to the spring, this stove could have been used for laundry as well as for cooking and rendering. A drying house was built on the outside of this chimney, and a small pipe, leading from the flue to the drying house, shared heat from the fireplace to preserve the fruits and vegetables being prepared for winter storage.

In the back (south) room, a large relieving arch supports the chimney column. A wire wall once protected stored vegetables and meats hung from hooks in the joists. These joists are logs flattened on top and bottom and set close together. Spaces between are filled with small rocks and plaster.

Ghosts on the floor of the second story indicate that originally the stairs entered a broad hall. Doors to back rooms were on either side and, on the facing wall, a door to the ballroom. This room spanned the width of the entire building. A chair rail circles the space, decorated with vertical bands of reeding, alternated with plain bands of similar width. At the north end of this grand room is a fireplace with an elaborate mantel decorated with reeding, roping and a shallow incised fringe. Beside this fireplace is a shallow, double-door cupboard with an arched top decorated with similar moldings. Inside this cupboard is a single high shelf, with a peg rail spanning the back wall beneath it. On the opposite side of the ballroom is a similar but smaller arched top cupboard with a single door. The two rear chambers on this floor have chair rails and peg rails high up on their inner walls.

Ashton Hall, Fireplace

The broad attic stairs rise gently and extend onto the second story hall floor for two feet or so, creating a triangular cavity under the first few steps. This space is closed to the hall by raised paneling but can be accessed from a small door placed high above the steps coming from the first floor to the landing. A ladder of some kind would have to be used to reach this little cubby.

Dr. Henry Schnebly was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on December 7, 1728 and immigrated to New York in 1750. Struck with illness, he remained in New York for a lengthy stay. After his recovery he headed to Washington County, Maryland. Having only means enough left to pay the expenses for his illness, he made the journey on foot. There, by his skill and industry in the practice of medicine, he soon acquired the means to purchase the tract of land called the Garden of Eden, five miles north of Hagerstown and one-half mile south of the Mason-Dixon Line. On July 24, 1805, Henry Schnebly died a wealthy man with extensive land holdings.

In 1795, Henry’s second son John Schnebly purchased 146 and 1/2 acres of land, parts of land grants Keller’s Discovery, Prickly Ash Bottom and Resurvey on Ash Swamp for the sum of …two thousand one hundred and seventy-five pounds five shillings current money. John Schnebly named his property Ashton Hall and, in 1801, built the stone house near Maugansville. He had eleven children by his marriage to Catharine Rench, who died in 1804 at the age of 40. In 1808, he married Catharine Wetzel of Staunton, Virginia, with whom he had no children. In his will, dated January 13,1832, John Schnebly says, …It is my will that in consideration of the love and regard I have for my dear wife Catharine that she be made as comfortable in her situation after my Decease as the Nature of my Estate will justify. I do therefore hereby order and direct that my Executors hereinafter named place in the possession of my wife as aforesaid my Negro Boy Rese my Negro Girl Sally, a good steady horse to furnish her with a good amusement and comfortable Carriage and harness for one horse, One Cow and four hogs, two beds, bedding and a complete dozen chairs, a Beauro a looking Glass a pair of shovel and tongs with such other articles of household and Kitchen furniture as may be deemed absolutely necessary to housekeeping which personal property it is my will my wife as aforesaid shall use and occupy during her natural life and after which period the same is to revert back to my Estate.

Ashton Hall Arch Fireplace

In 1838, the farm was sold to John Horst, of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to settle the estate of John Schnebly. In 1865, Horst sold part of the farm to his son Samuel, …reserving that part of the dwelling house on the north side of the passage from the cellar to the garrett with privilege of using the entries and stairs for passing and repassing with free access to any of the springs and one third part of the garden… according to the deed. Samuel and his bride resided in the upstairs ballroom area, and an enclosed stairway was added just inside the kitchen door for access.

In 1885, Lesher Horst, son of Samuel and Lydia Horst, built his own brick home on their portion of Ashton Hall. This property was later to become known as the Miller Asparagus Farm. Fanny Horst married Michael Martin and in 1899, the Martin family purchased the farm and continued their lineage at Ashton Hall. These were Mennonite families who continued to farm the land until 1989, 183 years. Orville Martin was the last steward of Schnebley’s fertile lands.

A few years ago, the property was again sold, and this time to developers. The first order of business was to apply for a demolition permit for the old stone farmhouse. The permit was denied and the house was quickly sold with a parcel of one acre to avoid paying taxes on a lot with an improvement. Recently, James and Joyce Dunn purchased the house. Solid and with much of its original fabric intact, the house was in urgent need of restoration and updating. The Dunns have plunged into the job with resolution. Restoring the dignity of the house and preparing it for the 21st century, and its 200th birthday, is their ultimate goal. Enjoying every aspect of life in the country is their daily experience.

When Joyce and Jim aren’t removing the window sashes and carefully scraping, reglazing and painting each one, and when the children tire of scraping off old wallpaper, they go to the library to research the family that built and lived at Ashton Hall. Several people who once lived in the house as children have dropped by to share stories of their childhoods. One such story tells of the ghost of a man standing at the end of a girl’s bed. She was so frightened that she jumped from the second story window onto the porch roof. The Dunn children are developing a new perspective on historical events. The year 1801 is the center of their dateline, and they realize that the Civil War came more than 60 years after their home was built. Might guests have worn powdered wigs to parties in their ballroom?

Restoration is tedious and difficult–made more so by having to live amid the work–but the Dunns are following their vision and working toward their goal. The children are excited about finally being able to move into their rooms, and Joyce is intrigued by their ghost. The old house is a wonderful adventure.

Epilogue: “Ashton Hall has evolved into a community. John Schnebley’s estate has been subdivided with single-family dwellings converging over half the designated meadow, at this time. A church, a private school (kindergarten through twelfth grade), two smaller farms, and a soccer complex are on the perimeter acreage. In the midst of this, sits a quiet reminder of another way of life altogether.

When we first arrived, we shared the meadow with red fox, deer, a blue heron, pheasants, barn swallows, a barn owl (complete with a bank barn), falcons, kestrels, an occasional skunk, hundreds of Canadian geese, wood ducks, muskrats, killdeer and acres of corn fields, meadow, streams and ponds.

This was the fourth house in a series of ‘Rescue and Resuscitate’ missions in our 23 year partnership that also combined full-time jobs and raising three children. This was the house that our children would come back to and bring their children for visits.

Dawn explodes through the house in the mornings, first in soft pastel tones and then on to brilliant, intense light. Vivid sunsets color the walls at dusk and paint landscapes over the mountain range beyond the meadow. Generations of families were witnesses to this daily performance.

Once this house was still, allowing us to crawl over, under and through it, attempting to erase the ravages of time. Now, we are still, and the house permeates us with its noble character, timeless grace, solid strength and humble acceptance of change.

This house and I are survivors, beauty weathered over the course of life’s storms, inner strength that sustains and endures. This house is healing me. Teaching me to take one day at a time and savor it. Cultivating patience and peace. This house provides a foundation of protection and comfort and has nurtured creativity and provided a rich heritage for my children who leave and now come back with their children to visit. ”

Joyce Dunn

This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, January 5, 1992 as the 31st in the series.BookBanner