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South Mountain Hotel

May 29, 1997|By PAT SCHOOLEY

Editor's note: This is the 92nd in a series of articles about the historic and architectural treasures of Washington County.

High on South Mountain near Edgemont sits a solitary farm stead dominated by a red brick house, surrounded by forests and orchards, isolated from any community, far from any highway.

Jacques Lane, a private way, leads back from Leathers Road through a massive building that spans the road leading into the orchard complex. The brick house is three stories tall. It has a mansard roof and a one-story wrap-around porch with square columns and scroll-cut brackets. Three bays, extending the full three stories, face the valley. The windows are arched with decorative, peaked hoods above them, and there is a broad cornice with decorative corbels beneath the roof. Between the bays are two entrances sheltered by the porch. These doors have long, narrow panels with arched tops and curved bottoms, finished with curved moldings. The door jambs are decorated with similar oval panels. There are 24 rooms in this dwelling.

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In 1874 John Albert Nicodemus purchased 100 acres of mountain land from John Oster and his wife. He cleared the land and planted it in apple orchards, part of the industry that was just getting under way in the area.

Before 1890, he built the front, northern, portion of the house with its three bays overlooking the valley. Then a short time later, he decided that he would run a hotel while his trees were maturing. He doubled the size of the house by adding on to the rear of the original house. A grand stairs with turned balusters was placed in the center of this section; it rises to the third floor.

This third level remains much as it was when South Mountain Hotel operated. There is a central hall surrounding the stairway, with nine rooms arrayed about the perimeter. These rooms vary in size. The walls are plaster white, and the woodwork is painted white. Exterior corners of the walls and windows are covered with turned wooden corner moldings, and there is a stairway in the roof in one of the rooms. There are no closets. Floors were covered wall to wall with woven grass mats when the hotel operated, and wardrobes were used. Several of these are now in service as cupboards for canned goods, having been equipped with shelving and relegated to the basement. Each door has a numbered oval metal plate; and each was posted with a printed notice that declared, "South Mountain Hotel, John A. Nicodemus, Prop.," and the terms: $2 a day; $8 to $12 a week, including meals, all bills payable weekly. Meal times also were announced, and then the Maryland laws regulating Inn-Keepers were quoted at length. The last act of these laws was dated 1898, suggesting that this was the era of the hotel. The third floor rooms were equipped with red-and-white striped awnings, long since worn out. It must have been a spectacular sight standing alone on the mountain.

A lady's man

Family lore says that the hotel was only operated for a couple of years. It seems that Nicodemus's son Samuel, who would have been about 23 at the time, was spending too much time on the front porch entertaining the lady guests and not tending to his orchard duties. His father closed the hotel. Sam Nicodemus never married.

To the left of the hotel/home is a two-story rectangular building with a flat roof and a one-story addition on its left side. This building is clad in German siding, painted white with green trim. The windows have peaked trim over their lintels, and there are sliding doors on the east and south sides of this building that are hung on exterior tracks with iron rollers.

There is an exposed summer beam held by a central, braced post that supports the second floor. At one side of the main room is an enormous wooden ice box with beveled mirror panels in each of its doors. This building was built as an apple drying house with a boiler in the cellar that heated wire trays of apple slices and dried them into apple snits.

South of the house is a massive bank barn with large square cupelos. This barn is painted white with green trim, and there are stars that are outlined in green on the gable ends. The building that straddles Jacques Lane was part of the apple packing operation and allowed wagons to be loaded with the stored apples from the room above the road. At one time it held a steam engine that powered a cider mill and a Frick cooling system that chilled the storage areas.

John Nicodemus owned orchards in Winchester, Va., and in Zullinger, Pa., as well as the one in Edgemont. He continued to acquire parcels of land adjoining the Edgemont property until his death in 1916.

Five of Nicodemus' seven children survived him. His three sons, Charles at Winchester, Edgar at Zullinger, and Samuel who had worked with his father in Edgemont, inherited the orchards under their care. (Late in life, Edgar married Emma Geiser; and they gave the town of Waynesboro the beautiful farm museum Renfrew.)

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