129 – Woburn Manor, circa 1820, south of Downsville, MD.
After the death of Charles Courtney and Margaret Myers, Woburn Manor sat empty and deteriorating from 1981 until 1999 when it was purchased by Todd and Tracey Bowman. This photo was taken in 1995. Photo by Magnus Dahlgren Photography, 13232 Fountain Head Road, Hagerstown, MD. 21742.
The large white house, set well back from a dogleg in Dam #4 Road, stood neglected for many years, its boxwood gardens overgrown and wild, its porches slowly disintegrating. Vandals stole the fanlight from above its entrance and all the original hardware from its doors. Window sashes were destroyed, and much of the handrail and balustrade of the staircase was missing. Finally a section of its raised-seam roof, already in poor condition, was peeled back by heavy winds; and rains poured through the house. Demolition by neglect seemed about to claim another of our county’s treasures.
Even though the house had become a derelict, Todd and Tracey Bowman could see its once elegant lines and its potential. They set about rescuing Woburn Manor, repairing the roof even before the purchase was completed in order to save the interior from further damage. It has been a daunting task, taking more than a year, but it is nearly done. The floors have been refinished; and, much to the Bowman’s relief, the old pine held up under all the rain that washed through the roof. The fanlight and the porches have been replicated, using old photos as guides for missing elements, and the double front doors restored. Old sashes have been repaired and new ones replicated using the same nine-over-six configuration for the first floor and six-over-six for the second.
Woburn is constructed of stone and has always been covered with stucco struck with lines to imitate large cut stone blocks. A driveway circles in front of the house. The central bay of the front façade projects slightly and sets off the main entrance. Two doors beneath a fanlight are flanked by sidelights. The square entrance portico has one-story columns to hold its gabled roof. It rests on stuccoed stone piers with open spans that admit light to a cellar window below. The house sits on a man-made rise, with three terraces still visible at the rear. Although the design of the earlier boxwood gardens is not known, a formal one is being planted to reflect these earlier plantings. On the west, the basement opens at grade onto a large, flat area held by stone retaining walls on either side. This entrance is near the kitchen, allowing for easy access at ground level.
Thomas Buchanan was born of English parents in 1768 at the family home in Charles County. He became a lawyer, and in 1797, he married Rebecca Maria Anderson, granddaughter of Governor Samuel Ogle. In 1806, they moved to Hagerstown, where Buchanan established a law practice. In 1810, he received a land grant for 1,650 and 3/8 acres of land he called Woburn. This was a very large tract for such a late date, probably the last large land patent in the county. Seven years later, Buchanan had the tract resurveyed to include some vacancies that were not part of the original. It was during this period that Woburn Manor was built. In 1815, Buchanan was appointed Associate Judge of the Fifth Circuit, serving under his younger brother John, who was Chief Justice. He held this post until his death in 1847.
Thomas Kennedy*, a Scot who had emigrated in 1777, published a book of his poems. To Howard was written to his son the day after his birth and signed, Wooburn, formerly part of Chews Farm, Washington County, Maryland September 16th, 1808. Another poem written in 1809 was also signed …from Wooburn, indicating that Kennedy was living at Woburn at that time, possibly as a tenant and certainly in a house other than the manor, which had not yet been built. The name Woburn, which derives from Wooburn Commons in England, is a corruption of Woodburn, and was apparently assigned to this property even before it was patented. Did Buchanan control the land before the patent was officially issued, and was he the one who chose the name?
Another tantalizing tidbit of history is the tenuous connection of Woburn to one of the progenitors of foxhounds in this country, an Irish foxhound named Mountain. Governor Ogle owned Mountain at one time, and the dog later became the property of Thomas Buchanan’s son James, who was said to have been exceedingly fond of fox hunting and had a large number of trained hounds. Did Mountain sire hounds at Woburn?
Buchanan was an important man, moving in the upper levels of society. He served as one of the original trustees of St. James College, was a large landholder and was the owner of many slaves. After Buchanan died, Woburn was divided to settle the estate. His unmarried daughter Harriet who still lived at home purchased the 524 acre parcel containing the manor house and other buildings for $28,868. She was never able to repay the debt she incurred for this purchase. In the end, her parcel was divided and sold to pay her obligations. In 1929, Charles Courtney Myers and his wife Margaret purchased an eleven-and-one-half acre tract that included the buildings. This parcel was sold again in 1981 after both the Myers died. It was never restored. Todd and Tracey Bowman purchased the tract in 1999.
The floor plan is unusual for this area. The main entrance opens into a foyer. A semi-elliptical archway centered in this foyer repeats the curve of the fanlight above the doors. To the left (east) is a sitting room with a fireplace. The same space to the right of the foyer is divided into a small room on the north and an area for the staircase that runs from cellar to attic. The back half of this level holds two large rooms of equal size, each with a fireplace on the gable wall. Both rooms have doors leading into the foyer, with a double door between them. The dining room, on the west, can also be entered from the staircase area. A jib window in the east room overlooks the formal gardens and once opened onto a rear porch that will soon be replaced. The interior walls separating these two rooms from the rest of the house and from each other are made of stone and extend from the basement through the second floor. This adds greatly to the strength of the structure and to its fire safety.
On the cellar level, the kitchen is directly beneath the dining room and is connected by a dumbwaiter in the southwest corner. Counterweights balance the double-shelved waiter wherever it is stopped, but tugs on the ropes will move it up and down. A square cupboard in the corner of the dining room can be opened to deliver the food the waiter serves, saving the cook many steps. The kitchen has a large cooking fireplace in the space beside the waiter. Wooden counters and cabinets line the south wall, with an island in the center. All are built with wood from the property. Even the refrigerator is faced with this wood. To the east of the kitchen is the family room.
The second floor of the house has three bedrooms over the public spaces of the first floor and baths in the northwest corner near the stairs. The home’s only original closets are on either side of the fireplace in the southeast bedroom. Tracey notes that these are just a bit narrower than a hanger, so shelves have been installed instead of rods. Mantelpieces on this floor are simple but charming; each is different.
The attic level has been insulated and finished by the Bowmans. Here the ceilings are about six-and-a half feet high in contrast to the twelve and eleven foot ceilings below. Since the interior stone walls do not continue into this level, the floor plan is flexible. Closets and storage areas occupy much of the space, but an office and a family room have also been included. This will allow Tracey to work at her computer while her sons play next door. Tracey notes ruefully that there are 50 steps between the kitchen on the basement level and her office three floors above.
Chimneys rise from both gable ends of the house. The chimney to the east has flues for fireplaces in each of the rooms below, so the flues rise straight and then curve in across the attic gable wall to meet in the center. On the west gable, however, there are no fireplaces in the small rooms on the north. The south chimney curves across the attic wall so that it can rise through the roof at the center of the gable, matching the east gable. Since there is no north chimney to balance and support it, three stones protrude from the gable wall to hold the chimney’s curve.
Many of the manor’s accessory buildings still remain. Just west of the house is a stone building, newly pointed and restored, with a new cedar shake roof. In the smaller room is a great fireplace, possibly the summer kitchen, and beside it a large space with a single window and a loft above. This is said to have been one of the slave quarters. Beyond this building, at the foot of the hill near the stream, is a stone springhouse. The north gable end of this building had collapsed, taking the roof with it. The gable has now been restored and the roof replaced. Further to the south is a stone stable with a more recent frame addition. East of the house, near the stone wall, is the ruin of the icehouse. This stone structure is roughly ten feet square and built into the ground to a depth of twelve feet or more. Its roof is gone and its steps are caved in, but Todd intends to restore it in time. He doesn’t know just what he will use the icehouse for, but he’s sure he will have a need for that building by the time he finishes working on it.
Woburn Manor is a magnificent home, beautifully redone, filled with history and interesting characters. It was created for another way of life in another time, yet it serves the needs of its new family in the new millennium very well.
*Thomas Kennedy went on to greater fame and controversy. In 1822, as a Washington County legislator, he sponsored a bill to give Jews the right to hold office by deleting the constitutional requirement to swear belief in the Christian religion.
Epilogue: Work at Woburn has continued. The back porch is finished and permanent fencing installed. The Bowmans are searching for examples of icehouses so that they can determine how to restore their own.
In 2002 the Bowmans sold Woburn Manor to James and Susan Peterson who continue to give this historic mansion the proper stewardship befitting one of the great treasures of Washington County, Maryland.
This article appeared in the Herald Mail Newspaper, Sunday, July 16, 2000, the 129th in a series of articles by Patricia Schooley about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.