136 – Elmwood Farm, circa 1858, east of Williamsport, MD
Interstate 81 cut through the original road from Williamsport to Boonsboro, leaving a section of the old route, now named Kendle Road, still passing through fields and among farms. A long straight lane angles southwest from Kendle Road through a treeless landscape to an early farmstead. Behind a section of original white fence with square, close-set pickets rests a handsome four-bay brick home. Beyond the house is a sturdy frame barn painted red, with smaller accessory buildings filling the space between. Further on, a smaller four-bay brick tenant house stands beside the lane. It is a spare, functional, working farmstead.
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Elmwood Farm was once part of Conococheague Manor, the vast estate six-year-old Samuel Ringgold inherited from his father Thomas in 1776. Colonel John R. Dall purchased 775 acres of the Manor from Ringgold in 1820. This parcel fell on both sides of the early road between Williamsport and Boonsboro, which was then newly opened. It also spans the present-day Route 68 that replaced this early road. Dall paid $44.85 per acre for his farm, a price indicating that no significant improvements were on the land at that time.
In 1845, Dall was granted a mortgage of $7,252.50 on all his Washington County properties, now 1,500 acres, by George Stonebreaker of Baltimore. William Schley of Frederick brokered this mortgage. Dall claimed that he did not receive most of the money and that Schley was at fault. Stonebreaker eventually sued, and both Dall and Schley went bankrupt. William B. McAtee of Smithsburg, a local real estate investor, purchased Dall’s holdings at a sheriff’s sale in 1847.
In 1858, Lewis Ripple and his brother-in-law Benjamin F. Newcomer purchased the 401 and 1/2 acres lying on the south side of the Williamsport-Boonsboro Road. Newcomer was born in Washington County but moved to Baltimore where he and his father were flour merchants. Perhaps Ripple and Newcomer were using the farm outside Williamsport as a western base for grain consignment. An 1859 map of the area shows Lewis Ripple owning 400 acres on the south side of Williamsport-Boonsboro Road, with the main house and the brick tenant house marked. This would indicate that Ripple had built the elegant country home he named Elmwood immediately after purchasing the land.
The house is set on stone foundations, except for brick on the northwest side, suggesting that Ripple may have reused an earlier foundation but expanded its size somewhat. The main block of the house is roughly square, and the brick is laid in an irregular common bond. There are from four to seven rows of stretchers between header rows, with no obvious pattern or apparent reason. The three first-floor front windows are replacements, probably from the 1890s when a later owner decided to update the house in the current fashion. Each window has been lengthened and now has two-over-two sashes with a gently arched top. The rest of the windows in the house have six-over-six sashes.
The front door is sheltered by a one-story portico. This is a replacement for the existing porch that was lost in a snowstorm several decades ago. It appears that two chamfered, decorated posts were salvaged and now support the new roof. An early root cellar under this porch was filled in when it was rebuilt.
The front door has six panels and is set in an architrave with sidelights and a broad eight-light transom. It opens into a short hall with five doors, all beautifully grained to look like mahogany. On the right a door leads into the front parlor. Wide paneled doors centered in the rear wall open into the back parlor so that the doors can be opened and the two rooms can be used together for entertaining. All the doors in both parlors are exquisitely grained to look like oak, including the back of the mahogany-grained hall door.
On the left of the hall is a small room that may have been Ripple’s office; and under the stairs is a closet, the only original one in the house. The door at the end of the hall opens into a large room with chair rail, the original dining room. This room has doors to the back parlor as well as one that once led into the office. A full bath now occupies the rear portion of the office. Woodwork throughout is simple, with plain corner blocks.
The wing behind the dining room, probably built at the same time as the main block of the house, is built closer to the left side of the house, making it off–center. This may be because the builder used old foundations. This wing has a double porch along the left side, a single porch on the right and holds the large kitchen on the first floor. Simple, old cupboards hang on one wall, and a closed stairway rises steeply in the north corner to the hired man’s room above the kitchen. This room is virtually unchanged. A cupboard with a simple paneled door tucks beside the chimney. The woodwork is still the original dusky brown and in nearly perfect condition. Two windows open to the northwest, while a window and a door on the opposite wall open onto the upper porch. Steep stairs lead to the attic. This room is accessed only from the kitchen or the second floor porch, allowing both the family and the hired man privacy.
The second floor of the main block is reached from the stairs in the front hall. The handrail, with its turned balusters and newel post, may have been a replacement added when the front windows were changed. The stairs rise to a landing with short flights of steps on either side. There are four bedrooms and a modern bath. Floors are random-width pine, and most doors have cast iron latches. Windows have paneled jambs that are splayed to admit more light.
Closed stairs from the upper hall lead to the unfinished attic. The rafters and the collar beams are pegged. Each of the rafters is marked with a Roman numeral. Since each mortise and tenon was hand cut and fitted together on the ground, it was important to match these elements when the structure was assembled, hence the numerals. Some rafters have unused mortises indicating that they have been recycled from an earlier structure. The numerals marking these rafters are similar to those in the 18th century Good-Hartle house.
The cellar can be entered from stairs in the kitchen or through the ground-level door under the double porch. A large service fireplace still equipped with cranes dominates the first room. This is the only fireplace in the house. Lewis Ripple was a very modern man, and he built a home to be heated with cast iron stoves; so each room has a chimney with a thimble to receive the pipe from the stove. Well-made batten doors lead to a coal room, storage room and to the “potato room” with its large bin for potatoes and several hanging shelves to keep produce away from mice.
The original smokehouse stands just behind the house. It is brick with tall stone foundations and a steeply pitched, raised seam roof that terminates in a knob. The six-sided tree still rises to the peak of the roof, equipped with two-by-four arms extended on all sides to hang the meats for smoking.
Lewis Ripple also maintained a home in Baltimore and probably moved there permanently in 1875, for in that year his son John purchased the other share of Elmwood farm from his uncle Benjamin Newcomer and his wife, making John and his father joint owners of the farm. In 1894 John and his wife defaulted on a loan, and their property was sold at auction in 1895. The sale advertisement described improvements on the 200 acre Elmwood Farm as, …LARGE BRICK DWELLING, smoke house, carriage house, ice house, blacksmith shop, a splendid bank barn 100 feet long by 54 feet wide, under the bridge wall of the barn is a large cistern with piping into the barn yard where the water can be drawn for the use of the stock, also a never failing well of water near the house. There is also a large BRICK TENANT HOUSE near the Mansion House, and a large barn and a splendid well of water with a wind pump. Jacob Lemen bought the farm for $10,150.
In 1900, Lemen sold part of an acre to the Cumberland Valley Railroad, and seven years later sold the farm to Albert and Elizabeth Eyerly for $17,000. He bought it back for $18,500 the following year and sold it a few months later, in 1909, to John M. Kendle for $19,500.
John Kendle was a farmer born in 1861. He, his wife Ida and their three children made Elmwood their home. When John died in 1916, his will left all his property to his wife, so long as she remained a widow. Upon her death or remarriage the farm was to be sold and the proceeds divided equally among his children. John’s son Roy took over management of the farm, supporting his family and his mother from its profits.
In 1919, Ida C. Kendle petitioned the court for permission to abrogate the conditions of her husband’s will. The petition stated that Roy wished to discontinue farming, and Ida, now 53, was unable to manage the farm alone. The court approved, and Elmwood was once again offered at public auction. This time the sale notice described the farm as, …fine limestone land, in a high state of cultivation and under good fencing. It is improved by a two-story brick dwelling house with basement, containing twelve rooms, a two-story brick tenant house containing 8 rooms and kitchen. Bank barn with two wagon sheds and corn cribs, hog pen, buggy shed, blacksmith’s shop…two wells of water…and two cisterns. Roy and his wife purchased the farm for $29,878.12.
Roy Kendle sold Elmwood to his son John M. Kendle and his daughter Della Kendle Anderson in 1947. Della died in 1980 and John M. Kendle died in 1989. His widow, their children, two nieces and a nephew now own the farm. Many years ago, John built a new home on the farm and rented the mansion house to the Mellott family. Donald Mellott grew up there and now rents the house and land. He and his wife Dolores have spent all of their 43-year marriage at Elmwood.
Cheryl Wilkes, one of John’s children, also has a home on the farm and is the one appointed to care for the property. The Mellotts have been good stewards, but it is time for some major maintenance. The roof needs replacing, bricks should be repointed and Cheryl would like to replace the front porch with a duplicate of the earlier one. In order to take advantage of the preservation tax credits, she is going to establish an historic district around the farmstead. In return for following the Secretary of the Interior’s standards, 25 percent of the cost of the restoration will be applied toward the farm’s Maryland taxes. If there is an excess of credit, a check will be issued for the difference. The county also offers a ten percent tax credit on exterior restoration work to be subtracted from real estate taxes. Any excess of this credit can be applied in future years. With this help, Elmwood Farm will be restored and continue to grace our county for another century.
Note: Sandra Izer did the research for this article.
This article appeared in the Herald Mail Sunday, August 5, 2001 as the 136th in the series.
Epilogue 2014-2015: Selena Wilkes Tory and her family devoted several years carefully restoring Elmwood and in the fall of 2014 they opened Elmwood Farm Bed & Breakfast. Selena is the great great-granddaughter of John M. Kendle (4th generation). In 2012, the elegant 19th century Greek Revival estate was nominated and added to the National Register of Historic Places. Andrew and Selena have carried out their vision to fully restore the farmhouse to its original character while discreetly adding modern amenities to comfortably serve their B&B guests. With guidance and some assistance from subcontractors, Andrew and Selena have successfully completed most of the restoration work themselves. Elmwood Farm is also available for weddings and other events.
From Elmwood Farm Selena also produces a custom, handmade line of fine organic soaps.
The Washington County Historical Trust is pleased to add Elmwood Farm to our list of Historic Accommodations in Washington County, Maryland. Historic Accommodations in Washington County, MD