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The Roulette Farm

February 25, 1999

This is the 112th in a series of articles about the historic and architectural treasures of Washington County.




Roulette FarmBy PAT SCHOOLEY

photos: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Bloody Lane, where once the Union and Confederate Armies met in the deadliest single-day battle in the history of this country, is quiet now, a sunken road winding among fields edged with split-rail fences.

[cont. from lifestyle]

To its left are a mailbox and a sign announcing a private farm in the heart of Antietam National Battlefield. The narrow farm lane winds more than half a mile among the quiet landscape, a stone fence following it intermittently on the right.

A large-frame bank barn, weathered dark, looms to the right as the lane curls behind it, past a pond, toward a group of farm buildings.

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Settled at the foot of a hill is a small stone building with a large brick chimney at its gable end. A tiny stream flows through this building from a spring that emerges under an arched brick shelter just to its west.

This building has two rooms and a loft. A seam in the stonework between the two rooms indicates that the first structure here was the southern room, a single-story, 16-by-18-foot stone cabin with a service fireplace. At some point, this building was nearly doubled in size when the 16-by-16-foot northern room was added. The roof was raised to create loft space. Joists supporting the loft floor were extended through the wall on the north, making the roof overhang to the west, protecting the doors to the two rooms.

The spring flows through the newer north room in a concrete channel where crocks and jars of food were once placed to cool. A hole in the ceiling of this room is connected to a window in the loft's gable end by a plank shaft that directs light into the lower room. The two rooms' floors are on different levels, and there is no connecting door between them.

The lane winds past this building to a parking area at the foot of the hill.

Another stone structure, once an icehouse, is built into the base of the hill. Its northern end has been pushed out and the building extended with wood to form a garage for one car. The two stone corners built into the hill at the back of the building are rounded, a bit of masonry that is easier to build and strengthens the corners.

A series of flat stones are set into the ground beside this garage to form stairs up the hill to the long, narrow, story-and-a-half house that rests atop. This house, now clad in aluminum siding, has a raised-seam metal roof and dormers. Three distinct sections are visible. On the south is a four-bay frame section with a one-story porch under the main roof span.

This section, the first, was built in the 18th century and was later remodeled in the middle of the 19th century. The door enters a hallway that bisects this block of the house and exits through a door on the west.

Seven doors open into this hall. Each is beautifully grained to look like mahogany. A closed stairs leads to the second floor. To the left of the hall is the parlor. A fireplace whose elegant mantel has a flared shelf and fluted pilasters serves it. Behind the parlor is a small room with pegboard on three sides. These rooms can be entered independently from hall doors but also have a door on the wall between them.

Beehive ovenOn the north side of the hall is the 19-by-14-foot living room. This stone addition is a three-sided, two-bay structure. This room has a simple mantel over a fireplace that is now fitted with a heating stove. One door has six raised panels and woodwork trimmed with ovolo molding typical of 18th-century work. A small room has been added onto the back of the living room. The basement beneath this section has thick stone walls that are buttressed with additional stonework at various heights.

The large kitchen occupies the northern three bays of the house and was added to the right side of the living room block. Closed stairs to the basement and to the upper floor are built along this joining wall.

The most interesting feature of this room is its service fireplace, now partially bricked over but still revealing the original iron door of its beehive oven. This door still opens to reveal a broad, shallow oven space with an oval brick ceiling. The floor of the oven is also brick, supported on close-set, hand-hewn timbers that form the ceiling of a small shed that is attached at the north end of the kitchen. This shed has a gable roof built over the top of the oven.

Hand-planed beaded boards finish the stairway and upper hall in the first section of the house. Four batten doors with thumb latches lead to two chambers with sloped ceilings, a closet and a large central room above the living room. On the north side of this room, a grained door leads to yet another bedroom that can also be accessed from a steep set of stairs in the kitchen. At one time, this segment of the house was a single story.

The stone wall in the attic still shows the shadow of an earlier, lower gable on it.

The National Park Service long wanted to acquire the Roulette Farm but never had the funds to do so. When Howard Miller and his wife decided to sell their farm after 42 years, the Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh was willing to fund the effort.

The Conservation Fund negotiated the deal with a lease-back option for the Millers. In only 10 weeks, the parties went to settlement. At closing, the Conservation Fund turned title to the property over to the National Park Service.

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