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The Kennedy Farm

September 09, 1999|By PAT SCHOOLEY

Editor's note: This is the 119th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County

"It's the best kept secret in the state!" declares South Lynn as he gazes toward The Kennedy Farm, a small log house perched on high stone foundations. This rustic cottage is a National Historic Landmark, one of only two in the county.

Lynn's love affair with the little house began in 1965 when he saw a story in the Washington Star: "John Brown Hideout for Sale," with a photograph of the place and a Hagerstown dateline.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Terms to Know

Collier: When the county was active in iron manufacturing, charcoal was needed to separate the metal from ore. Colliers burned timber with insufficient oxygen to produce this charcoal.


Gable: The triangular section of an exterior wall in a building with a ridged roof.

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown came into this area with a plan to start an insurrection of slaves. He searched for a private piece of property where, without being noticed by neighbors, he could organize his raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

As an investment, Dr. R.F. Kennedy had purchased a collier's cottage and 194 acres of land from Antietam Iron Works in 1852. Kennedy died seven years later, and his farm was empty.

Brown, calling himself Isaac Smith, rented the place for $35 in gold from the trustee of Kennedy's estate and lived there while he gathered troops and organized his abortive raid on Harpers Ferry. His 16-year-old daughter, Annie, and his 17-year-old daughter-in-law, Martha, served as cooks and housekeepers for this provisional army, which grew to number 21 soldiers, including Brown's sons Owen, Watson and Oliver.

The farm passed through many owners and was altered extensively over the years.

In 1950, it was purchased by the National Negro Elks when Leonard Curlin, a Hagerstown Elk, persuaded the Tri-State Elks Lodge to buy it. The Elks hoped to restore the house and make it a museum and shrine for Brown, who, Curlin said, "struck the first blow for my people."

Funds were slow in coming, and the Elks could no longer maintain the property. They placed the farm on the market. Lynn remembers being overwhelmed at his first sight of the house even though it was in poor shape. Meanwhile, Bonnard Morgan purchased the farm 1966 in order to resell it. He stabilized the house.

In 1972, Lynn leased the house for a year. He took this time to do research in the Maryland and National Archives to make certain that this place really was what people said it was: the house that John Brown rented before the raid on Harpers Ferry. At the end of the lease, Lynn convinced three friends to join him and buy the house with about two acres for $40,000.

It has been Lynn's project since then. He has courted politicians, lobbied the Maryland Historical Trust for funds, written grant applications and tried to get restoration specialists to help.

A.W. Franzen, a restoration architect working for the National Park Service, prepared a report describing the 1859 building and its proposed restoration. The Department of the Interior funded about half the cost of restoration. The late Louis Goldstein, who was then comptroller of the state, got behind the project and allowed the Bureau of Public Works to fund much of the rest.

Several sources of historical information made the project possible. A drawing of John Brown's residence appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper Nov. 26, 1859, and provides a clear picture of the front of the little house.

Annie Brown lived to a considerable old age, wrote numerous letters, and was quoted extensively about life at the Kennedy Farm. In 1860, a Senate Select Committee convened to inquire into the facts and circumstances connected with Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. This committee gathered its findings into a document called the Mason Report, and several passages in this report describe the farm. And life on the farm was described in a tract by Osborne P. Anderson, one of the raiders who escaped. Using this historical information, along with physical evidence found in the building, Franzen pieced together how the house had been altered over time and which parts of the house were original.

National Historic Landmark

Armed with a plan, Lynn cleared debris and began restoration. National Historic Landmark status was granted in 1973. This recognition opened doors for funding. Lynn's younger son Sprigg purchased period pieces and furnished the house to appear as it had in 1859. Over time, Lynn and Harold Keshishian bought out the other two partners, with Keshishian remaining in the background but providing financial support for the effort.

The house itself is functional, without ornament. The original collier's cabin was a single room with a loft, probably with little or no foundation.

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