37 – Linden Hall, circa 1800-1820, Downsville Pike south of Hagerstown, MD
South of Hagerstown along Downsville Pike a sign on the west side of the road announces, “LINDEN HALL–Orchards and Dairy Farm.” A lane extends far back between level, gently rising fields and ends in a clump of trees and farm buildings.
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At the left of the complex, a long white house built in two sections rests among broad lawns and mature trees. Made of stone and covered with roughcast that has been painted white, this house is entered through a large, six- panel door fitted with a huge iron box lock. Surrounding the door are sidelights, a seven-pane transom, fluted pilasters and paneled jambs. A hip-roofed porch with simple columns and a new brick floor protects this handsome entrance. Within the door, a long, broad hall extends along the north side of the house. To the right are two doors. The nearer, now permanently closed, exits to the outdoors without steps, designed so that guests could mount their horses as they stepped from the doorway. The further door opens onto a small, flat-roofed, square porch with scroll-cut splats in the balustrade and chamfered posts. Ornate brackets with applied scrolls support the eaves and turned pendants decorate the roof supports.
At the back of the hall, a cantilevered stairway winds to the attic. The balusters are simple, round posts painted white, and the handrail is shaped walnut that curls in a volute atop the newel post. Deeply molded woodwork with turned corner blocks surrounds the doors and the large six-over-six windows. Ceilings are twelve feet high.
On the south side of the hall are two parlors, one behind the other. This section of the house is just two bays wide. The window beside the entrance door is a false one, permanently shuttered, for the chimney to the fireplace in the front parlor rises behind it. The mantels of the parlor fireplaces are deeply molded with flaring shelf boards. Beyond the parlors is the dining room. Once the kitchen, this room retains the cooking fireplace with its original header brick lintel surround. Beyond, in the last room of the section, is the modern kitchen. A second stairway rises to a bedroom above, and a door leads onto a shed-roofed porch, which has recently been enclosed.
The second floor of the front section of the house contains two large bedrooms and a bath with eleven-foot ceilings. The rear section has three rooms entering one through the other but is also accessed by a stairway from the kitchen, which leads to the fourth bedroom.
The roof of the east section is hipped and topped by a white balustrade of turned members, an exact duplicate of the original. This widow’s walk is accessed by steep stairs through the attic to a trap door in the roof and commands a view of four states in clear, leafless weather. The attic walls are covered with many signatures—three of them Confederate soldiers’ names with the date July 10, 1863, mute testimony to the stop General Robert E. Lee’s army made on the banks of the Potomac at Williamsport as they waited for rain-swollen waters to recede. During this wait, the Confederates made good use of the widow’s walk to scout the movements of Union troops.
In 1732, Charles Calvert, Fifth Lord Baltimore, declared the lands in western Maryland open for settlement and three decades later set up a commission to dispose of his own manors. One of the commissioners was John Morton Jordan, a favorite of Lord Baltimore, who was given Conococheague Manor as an outright gift. He patented this manor of 10,688 and 1/4 acres, including what are now Downsville and St. James, on July 15, 1768. This tract was subdivided and sold many times over the years.
In 1827, David Hammett sold that part of the manor now known as Linden Hall to Frisby Tilghman who later sold it to William and Ann Schley. R. T. Holliday purchased the land from the Schleys in 1842 and is responsible for building the last four rooms of the house in which the kitchen is located. The rest of the house was built prior to 1803, but the exact date has not yet been established. On September 16, 1875, David and Susan Long purchased the farm. Mrs. Long moved six linden trees from the woods behind the house to the grounds surrounding it. Upon David Long’s death about 1911, his youngest son Elyet C. Long purchased the farm. For several years, the house was not occupied and fell into disrepair. On April 1, 1918, Joseph Byers and his wife Laura purchased the farm from his cousin, (David Long was Joseph’s uncle) and Laura Byers christened it Linden Hall after the trees planted so long ago by Susan Long.
Joseph Byers farmed Linden Hall for the rest of his life. He made repairs as he could afford them, planted apples and peaches, and raised dairy cattle. When times were very bad during the depression and he had lost two nearby farms, it seemed he would lose Linden Hall as well, but he rented the farmhouse for $150 a month and managed to hang on. The tenant turned the house into a speakeasy. There is just the faintest imprint of the word MEN on the first hall door indicating that a restroom had been placed outside it. There are also three sturdy trusses used to hold the handrail of the stairs solidly after it had been broken by encounters with some of the more exuberant clients of the speakeasy.
Joseph Byers’ son Ralph was killed in an accident, and he and his wife raised their grandson Roy. Roy helped farm and was one of the many Byers that helped pay off the mortgage. Then, he and his wife Betty bought the farm from his grandmother after his grandfather’s death and paid off their own mortgage with the help of their daughters. They continue to raise apples and peaches and to care for a dairy herd. They maintain the house while carefully preserving its character. One of their daughters Christine and her husband Michael Forsythe have built a house on the other side of the lane and help with the farming. Their other daughter Joanna and her husband William Calimer have promised to live at Linden Hall when Roy and Betty no longer can. The Byers family have owned this farm for over a hundred years and the attachment runs deep. Concerned about the fate of the land after he is gone, Roy Byers has placed the property in the agriculture preservation program so that it will always remain a farm, a monument to the settlers who founded this county.
Epilogue: Roy and Betty are retired now, but still help Chris and Mike with farm work. The living rooms have been redecorated and a bathroom remodeled. The plaster in the attic has been repaired with all the early signatures preserved. Betty defines their preservation ethic when she says, “We try not to take away from anything.”