91 – Bai Yuka, circa 1825-1850, St. James, MD
Behind St. James School, on a sharp bend in College Road, a sign announces Bai-Yuka; and a grand alley of trees leads to a stone and brick home clad in stucco and painted white. The gable end faces east, its pediment dominated by a large circular window with radiating muntins. A one-story, hip-roofed porch wraps around beneath. On the north façade, are seven bays in three sections. The central, three-bay segment is set back from the other two and has a two-story, columned porch. The westernmost two bays of the structure lead into the kitchen, perhaps the earliest part of the house. West of the kitchen is a lovely latticed brick carport/patio, and a covered brick walkway enclosed by latticework leads down to the garage and other outbuildings. A recently acquired antique fountain splashes beside the walkway among flower gardens.
(click on any image for a larger view)
Another brick walk leads through boxwoods from the driveway to the main entrance. This was not originally the main entry but became such during an earlier renovation. This two-paneled door opens under a curving, cantilevered staircase into a reception room.
On the right is a library whose walls are covered in dark green paper accented by warm cream woodwork. Bookcases rise to the ceiling on the inner wall, while French doors open onto the wraparound porch to the north and east. An archway in the south wall opens into the large living room, which also looks out onto the porch through French doors. In all, thirteen sets of these ample doors open into the first floor, filling the space with light. Both the library and the living room have fireplaces with marble mantels that are appropriate to the period of the house but are not original to it.
To the west of the living room is the formal dining room papered in a rare and valuable 19th century Zuber wallpaper showing scenes of Boston Harbor, New York Harbor and West Point cadets on parade. Individuals, both African-American and Caucasian, are pictured in elegant period costumes conversing with one another. The French designers of this paper didn’t realize such scenes would have been virtually impossible in segregated 19th century America. This fabric-backed French paper was printed in tempera paints with woodblocks. French doors open onto the south porch, where a wisteria vine, hung with silk flowers and leaves, winds from the floor across the ceiling. A door with two slender, vertical panels and a diamond-pane transom opens onto the two-story central porch from the north wall of the dining room.
When Beverly McCleary first came to Bai-Yuka, 80 panes of glass were broken or missing from the window sashes and the French doors. She searched for old glass across three states so that replacement panes would match the originals. When faced with cleaning and repairing the precious dining room paper, a conservator was hired. She experimented with techniques and finally spent two months erasing the panels with a gum eraser, being careful to exert the same pressure all the time so that the overall tone of the paper would be the same throughout. A missing panel of wallpaper was found in the attic and hung, just matching the paper already on the wall.
The kitchen still has its early brick fireplace with a firebox opening about five-and-one-half feet square. This room was extensively altered in 1988. A semicircular bay window the width of the room was added on the south, and the wraparound porch was extended to join it. The north side of the room was pushed out and expanded to three floors. New cabinetry and an island were added, the floor tiled with solid vinyl tiles and all the woodwork painted a warm gray.
Upstairs are three bedrooms, one with a sitting room that was created when a doorway was opened between the two rooms on the east. These rooms have their original marble mantelpieces with arched fireboxes, and the windows are diamond-paned casements. A large hallway on the second floor terminates at the winding stairway. This hall is furnished with a comfortable couch that rests in front of one of the windows. Each bedroom has an elegantly equipped private bath. The square pedestal sink and commode used in the new powder room above the kitchen were taken from the main bath of the house, reglazed and reset in the new addition. One of these fixtures has the date 1928 stamped in the porcelain.
The attic level is now filled with ductwork serving the heat and air conditioning system that has been added; but the great room behind the circular window was once used as a practice space for the Potomac Playmakers. On one inner wall are the remains of a fireplace, the back of its firebox still plastered in a Gothic arch. Most of the woodwork throughout the house is original as are the pine floors that are laid without sub-flooring directly on the joists.
It is uncertain who built this home, or exactly when. Architecturally, the building shows the influence of the Greek Revival period, which suggests that it was constructed in the second quarter of the 19th century or slightly later. The parcel of land, part of Conococheague Manor, was once part of the estate of General Samuel Ringgold, who came to this area in 1792 from Kent County, where he had been born 30 years earlier. Ringgold lived in lavish style, and when he died in 1829 what remained of his estate was sold to settle his debts. His home, Fountain Rock, became part of St. James School, but was destroyed by fire in 1926. Claggett Hall now stands on that site. Jacob Hollingsworth, who lived in Hagerstown, purchased the section upon which Bai-Yuka stands. (Bai Yuka is an Indian term meaning fountain rock.) In 1837, Hollingsworth sold a 118 acre parcel to John S. Rowland, then editor of the Torchlight and Public Advertiser, a local newspaper. The casement window hinges on the second floor of the eastern section of the house are dated 1836, making it possible for either Hollingsworth or Rowland to have built this part of the house.
Beautifully restored and furnished, Bai-Yuka stands among rolling lawns dotted by ancient trees, beds of flowers and boxwood. It is a tranquil haven, another way of life.
Epilogue: Dr. Robert Strauch and his wife Mary Helen had been trying to purchase an historic house for a number of years, but had been unable to find the right place. When they attended a Christmas party shortly after Bai-Yuka’s restoration, Mary Helen Strauch was so captivated by the home that she told the McClearys, “I’m going to buy your house some day!” The opportunity came in 1997 when the Strauchs finally purchased the property. The house is now filled with period pieces that Mary Helen had been collecting for decades. The fountain near the arcade to the garage is gone, and Mary Helen has placed yet another magnificent antique fountain in the garden immediately off the dining and living rooms.