101 – Chance Regained, circa 1799, south Washington County, MD
East of Route 67, Park Hall Road meanders toward South Mountain past little farmsteads. On the right, set well back from the road, is a small, four-bay brick house with a log cabin just to its east and an ample pond to the west. A small barn stands behind the house, with several other accessory structures about the yard in front of a curve of woodlands. The driveway crosses two small spring-fed runs on its way to this collection of tidy farm buildings. Outbuildings are painted traditional barn red, roofs are tight, foundations firm, doors hang square and the vegetation is well kept.
John Keefauver, an immigrant from Germany, took the oath of citizenship in 1798, listing his occupation as stone mason. The following year he purchased six acres, seventeen perches, with a spring from Christopher Armsbarger for the price of six pounds. This parcel was part of an original land patent called Chance Regained. Keefauver settled on his small acreage with his wife Barbara and their family, but he must have died shortly thereafter. In 1803 it was Barbara Keefhawber (spelling of the name was inconsistent throughout the records) who paid taxes on three cattle, furniture and six acres of land valued at seventeen pounds per acre.
In 1820, John and Barbara’s oldest son John purchased an adjacent parcel of two acres and 32 perches, part of land patent Strife, for $143 from George Stine, another German immigrant. This triangular parcel was attached to the eastern boundary of his family homestead, and it was here he built the log cabin over one spring and beside another. Barbara Keefauver must have died before 1827, because six of her children (or their heirs) each sold his one-seventh interest in the original six-acre Keefauver farm to John, the son, following that year. In 1842, John acquired four acres, one rood, and six perches of land from George Stine, son of the immigrant, who retained a life interest in the spring and springhouse. Eight acres, one rood, and fifteen perches of Chance Regained was added to the south in 1847, when Martin Snider and his wife Elizabeth sold it to John for $125. The next year three roods and nineteen perches, a little less than an acre, were added adjoining John’s original triangular lot. A final fraction of an acre on the east, once a cabin site with a spring, was purchased in 1862 for seven dollars. John Keefauver had spent 42 years collecting a farm of about twenty acres.
John Keefauver, the son, died in 1870, aged 83. The next year Ruanna and Mariah Keefauver, his unmarried daughters, purchased the home farm from the other heirs for $1,400. At the public sale of her father’s personal possessions, Ruanna, already 52, bought …a cow, mowing scythe, mattock, rakes, 1 forke, shovel, reel, axe, chairs, chest, stove, cupboard, cook stove, ladder, meat tub, churn, tubs, iron kettles, bag, bench, two pigs, and a lot of corn. It would seem that she and Mariah, then 39, intended to be active farmers. They were frugal ladies, for several small loans to their father also had been recorded.
The log cabin originally consisted of the kitchen on the ground level, a single room with whitewashed log walls above, and a loft accessed by ladder. Paint, plaster and mortises indicate that wings were added on both the west and south sides to accommodate John’s (the son) growing family. The basement has stone walls and a channel for the springs to flow through, cooling crocks sitting in it. In the cellar are a summer beam held by chamfered posts and a fireplace used both for washing and butchering. A ground-level door opens to the north, with the southern side of the room built into the hill. The first floor is entered through a door on the south.
It is likely that the sisters built the brick house sometime in the last quarter of the 19th century shortly after their father’s death. The original locks in the house were patented in 1868, indicating a construction date after that. The log house was probably improved and down-sized at the same time the new house was being built. Its wings were removed. A dividing wall was added on the first floor level, creating a narrow room with the fireplace and another larger room to the east. Steep, narrow, winder stairs to the loft were added.
The brick house was small. Two central doors entered two front rooms. There was a small parlor on the east side of the house with a decorative mantel on the rear wall, but with no chimney and no fireplace. This mantel has been moved to the side wall and the two little rooms made into one. The rear section of the house was built from logs recycled from an earlier building and clad in brick to save money. The dimensions are just about right to suppose that this three-sided log structure was once the west wing of the cabin and was simply moved to become the rear of the new house, where it had a small fireplace and served as the kitchen. Upstairs were three bedrooms.
Among the several outbuildings were a small log barn with post and beam wings on either side, and a little corn crib with post and beam framing held together with pegs. The small chestnut hog pen was probably there as well. Nothing was done on a large scale, there was enough to sustain the family, but little more.
On September 28,1894, Ruanna sold her interest in the farm to Mariah for five dollars. She died less than two months later. Mariah remained on the farm until her death in 1903. The little property in the foothills of South Mountain was sold to George O. Stine for $1,300. An inventory at Mariah’s death listed $198.71 in cash and $130.47 in checks in the home. Notes valued at $738.09 were paid to the estate, indicating that the sisters had lent money within their community.
George O. Stine resold the farm to Lockwood C. Rines for $1,500 just two months after he had purchased it. Rines operated the quarry on Marble Quarry Road for Mr. Shifler. Rines used low-grade marble stones to enclose the spring beside the log cabin and topped this enclosure with a single large marble slab. He also built an ample cave. Unlike the small scale of the other outbuildings, the cave is quite large, about ten feet wide and twenty feet long. The door faces north, opening through a wall built of rough, multicolored marble stones. The side walls are stone and the roof a brick barrel arch. A gable roof shelters the cave, almost sitting on the earth that is mounded around it. Rines also built the wraparound porch on the brick house, for a piece of gingerbread, unpainted, and never used, was found under the porch inscribed in pencil, Washington Marble Quarry.
Rines left the quarry, and in 1916 the property conveyed to Clarence Slifer, whose parents had a small farm nearby. It was the Slifers who built the summer kitchen, the garage and the chicken houses. They also moved the corn crib nearer the chickens. Clarence Slifer died in 1943, and his son Leon lived at the farm until 1954, when he moved to Boonsboro and rented the old place.
Ed Itnyre grew up near Mousetown on a small farm much like the Keefauvers’ homestead, the sixth generation of his family to live in the foothills of South Mountain. At seventeen, he moved to Washington, D.C., and remained there for his career. In 1975, Ed and his wife Lena bought the Keefauver farm, by now much deteriorated, as a weekend retreat and retirement home. They immediately put in a new septic system, bath, furnace and a temporary kitchen. All the roofs were repaired and missing windows replaced to prevent further deterioration. After this initial stabilization, they undertook a different restoration project each year. With loving care, a stone foundation wall was built under the hog pen to keep out groundhogs. The roof was replaced on the cave, and more groundhogs were evicted.
A new kitchen/family room was added to the back of the house in 1985, the year Ed retired. Bricks were removed from the wing, exposing the logs; and the interior of the front portion of the house was rearranged. The following year, a stone retaining wall was built behind the house and a pond built in the front, fed by the spring on the western edge of the property, and by the springs flowing from the log cabin.
The post and beam corn crib was moved back to its original site near the barn, where Ed built a concrete pad for it, evicting still more groundhogs. Then its sides were covered again with old, narrow boards and the new foundation hidden. The logs of the barn were exposed and missing ones replaced. The original strap-hinged doors were repaired. Old implements, horse collars, wheels, scythes and cradles are stored in the barn. There is grandfather’s one-horse bar share plow that Ed first used when he was ten and a primitive corn cutter that Uncle Frank made from a broken scythe blade.
The log cabin was stripped of its siding and rechinked. The outlet for the spring was cleared of debris so that the water would again flow freely, and the channel through the kitchen rebuilt. In digging through the mud, Ed found an old crock cover, just a squared, worn piece of wood, but a rare relic from an earlier way of life. The cabin is furnished as it would have been when it was first built. Crocks, covered with stone or wooden covers, sit cooling in the spring’s channel. A hominy mill patented by Ed’s great-grandfather and a six-plate stove, both made at Mariah Foundry; an early talking machine patented over 100 years ago; Ed’s mother’s sauerkraut stomper, churn and sausage stuffer; and much more fill the cabin. The rope beds are covered with quilts over ticks that have no straw because the Itnyres worry about mice. In the loft are berry picking baskets and crates, carriers and a picking box–mementos of local families who grew berries as an extra source of income.
“It’s just a hill farm,” says Ed Itnyre; and so it is. But it is also his loving memorial to a harder, more self-reliant way of life when nothing was wasted, when close-by farms formed insular, self-sustaining communities. Children married the children of neighbors. Money was loaned, and goods sold or traded among neighbors. Concern and caring compensated for meager means. Ed Itnyre has come back to his roots, to his Chance Regained.
This story by Patricia Schooley appeared in the Herald-Mail newspaper Sunday, March 22, 1998 as the 101st article in her series about the historic homes of the county.