97 – Perry House, circa, 1860, Clear Spring, MD
In Clear Spring on West Cumberland Street, an imposing brick home is a few feet back from the street behind a garden of potted plants. Its neighbors, which abut the right of way, are attached on either side. This elegant row house has two stories and seven bays. It is laid in common bond and painted red. The roof is nearly flat, and a broad box cornice with simple brackets crowns the structure. A decorative panel, indented in the brickwork, spans the house beneath the cornice. Windows have six-over-six sashes and are set in narrow frames that present a curved edge toward the street. The lintels are soldier bricks, and the sills are stone. A modern portico with a flat roof shelters the main entrance, located in the third bay from the east. This small roof has an iron railing around it. Sidelights and a transom, both with diamond-patterned muntins, surround the four-panel door. The jambs are paneled and flanked by pilasters. The second bay from the west contains another door. A transom with diamond-patterned muntins and a stone lintel surmount the door, which has a window and two raised wood panels.
Martin Myers, the founder of Clear Spring, first sold this lot to George Lowe in 1823. Thirty years later, the property was sold to Solomon Steinmetz for $200. In 1859, Steinmetz sold it to Dr. Herman Perry for $250, and the deed mentions a frame building on the lot. Dr. Perry was born in Lawrence County, New York, in 1822, and was the nephew of the celebrated Commodore Perry, hero of the War of 1812. He was educated at Brown University and came to Clear Spring in the mid-1840s. He trained under a local physician Dr. Ward and soon opened his own practice. At that time, it was common for doctors to have offices in their homes; and the western door of Perry House led into his office. This door opened into a reception room, with the office at the rear. This rear room had a door leading into the garden as well as a door into the dining room in the main section of the house.
The main door, furnished with a large iron box lock, opens into a reception hall. To the left is the living room with its original, high style, hand-molded woodwork with mitered corners. Here the window jambs are paneled; and, beneath the windows, similar paneling extends to the baseboard. The floors are random-plank heart pine. On the east wall is the fireplace, its mantelpiece dominated by a Cupid’s bow panel beneath the mantelshelf and flanked by square pilasters.
To the right of the reception hall is the dining room. Here the woodwork is simpler, but the fireplace mantelpiece is the same as the one in the living room. On the west wall of the dining room, beside the fireplace, is the door that leads into the office area. Another door, on the south wall, leads into a hall that opens into the kitchen. Construction details suggest that the kitchen was once a separate building that was incorporated into the main house in the 1870s. At the back of the kitchen stands a windowless, two-story brick tower that was built to hold a large metal water tank which once provided water for the home. The tank still occupies the upper part of the tower.
At the south end of the entrance hall, enclosed stairs to the second floor rise at right angles to the hall, where they open onto another corridor. There are three bedrooms across the front of the house; and an ample, windowed closet separates the middle and the east rooms. The woodwork is similar to that in the dining room except for the two large, shallow closets that have been added beside the fireplaces in the west and middle rooms. A fourth bedroom on the east side, behind the front room, looks out onto a second floor porch that is accessed from the hall. A similar room on the west side of the house has been converted into a large bath and the private bath of the master bedroom, which is over the kitchen.
Stone foundations wall the cellar under the front section of the house. The floor is dirt, and there were once three window wells facing the street. One of the main beams spanning the width of the house is made of two, two-and-one-half by nine inch rafters held together by short wood pieces that have been mortised through the rafters and held by pegs, an odd building technique.
Dr. Perry married Louisa Mary Prather, a member of an early Clear Spring family, and they had two sons William and Jonathan. Toward the end of his life, Dr. Perry was the cashier of the Clear Spring Mechanics’ Loan and Savings, which was located in Perry House, probably in his old office area. Dr. Perry died in 1876, but the bank was still shown in Perry House on the Clear Spring map of the following year. Jonathan Perry, born in 1864, attended the Maryland College of Pharmacy and opened a drug store in Clear Spring. He returned to school, graduated from the Baltimore Medical College in 1897 and opened his practice in his father’s old office. Perry House remained in the family until 1967, when Jonathan Perry’s grandchildren donated it to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church for use as a Sunday school and parish house. In 1978, a new Sunday school was built, and the property was sold to Bruce and Madelyn Marsden. Five years later, Dennis and Diana Crosby bought the house. Diana grew up just three miles to the west, and Perry House had been a part of her childhood. It was exciting to own this special treasure.
There was much work to be done. Denny and Diana stripped all the windows and doors of paint, then repaired and repainted them. The shutters, found in the basement, complete with their original hardware, were sent out to be stripped, then rebuilt and placed back on the house. The main block of the house needed scraping, repair and painting; but the kitchen addition had water damage from a deteriorated roof and needed complete restoration. The ends of the joists under the kitchen floor were rotted, and the floor was sinking. It needed to be gutted. After repairing and replacing joists, a new pickled pine floor was laid and cabinets were built. Denny and Diana completed all of the work, and it was Diana who spent days removing plaster from the fireplace to reveal the brick.
On the second floor, the two bedrooms above the kitchen were gutted and rebuilt, saving only the floors. The middle bedroom became the two bathrooms, with the large bath accessed from the main hall and the smaller bath attached to the master bedroom. The second-story porch, original to the 1870s addition, was extended along the wing; and a window from the master bedroom became a door onto this gallery. During this reconstruction, the original exterior wall of the porch was revealed to have been glazed red, with mortar joints painted a cream color. It was common to paint brick during this period, because the bricks were soft and readily absorbed water without a water repellent surface.
Outside, the porch was extended around the rear of the kitchen wing, and the original balustrade was repeated. The walkway from the rear of the office was cleared and bricked and a formal garden was established under the old trees in the back yard. Brick paths were laid among the newly established beds and boxwoods. The garden continues to evolve, and there are always projects around an old house, but life has settled into a predictable rhythm. Diana has a beauty shop in the old doctor’s suite, and Denny has started his own business designing electronic graphics and web pages. The Perry House today provides a warm, safe haven for the family, and this 19th century home is ready for the 21st century.
Epilogue: Clear Spring updated its sidewalks with trees and period lighting. The Crosbys have replaced the flowerpots in front of their home with raised beds filled with boxwoods and other plantings. Diana has painted a lovely mural with Clear Spring homes on the walls of the dining room, but most of the recent efforts have been in the gardens where a 19th century replica potting shed has been built and the gardens expanded.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, November 2, 1997 as the 97th in the series of articles by Patricia Schooley about the historical homes of Washington County.