Dec 3 pat schooley

November 30, 2000

Hess House

Oldest home in Keedysville to be featured in candlelight tour

Editor's note: This is the 134th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

Hess House will be featured in candlelight tour

Washington County Historical Society's third annual candlelight tour will showcase Keedysville Sunday, Dec. 10, from 1 to 8 p.m. Sixteen properties along Main Street will open. Tickets are sold out.

For information, call 301-714-4664 or go to or on the Web.

Terms to know

Bay: A space along the facade of a building defined by an opening, a window or a door.

German siding: A flat-faced, horizontal siding with a concave top and a tongue overlapped by the grooved bottom of the lower board.

Corbelling: A decorative course projecting from the body of a structure.

Pintel: A vertical pin fastened to a frame that serves as the fixed pivot for a hinge.


Cubby: A small compartment built into a wall.

Summer beam: A large beam supported by exterior walls of a building that carries joists of the floor above.

Winder: A stair step with a tread that is wider at one end than the other. Winders are used when steps are carried around curves or angles.

The stone gable of the Hess House is turned toward the street, displaying a great stone chimney with decorative corbelling rimming its top. Windows in this gable are irregularly placed. The main facade faces south, at 90 degrees from Keedysville's Main Street, and displays two sections joined evenly under a single roof. The larger section on the west is log, covered with German siding; the three-bay stone section is closer to the street. Both sections have single-story porches supported by square posts.

The house is slightly below street level, on land sloping down to a sharp bend in Little Antietam Creek. Mature trees shelter the house and the terrain, creating a secluded space in the heart of the village. Large, flat stones pave paths around the house, and a stone washhouse sits behind the home, near the cistern. A large fireplace with two cranes for kettles dominates the south wall of this small building, and a steep staircase with winder steps leads to the loft above. The dam that once held back the stream for Hess' mill still stands and is part of this property. One of the stone walls that once carried the millrace retains the yard near the stream.

Jacob Hess was born in 1740 and was brought from Lancaster County, Pa., to oversee construction of a mill on Antietam Creek for Christian Orndorff. He married Margaret Orndorff, Christian's eldest daughter, about 1768. His father-in-law gave him property near the spot where an early road crossed Little Antietam Creek. Aaron Orndorff (1784-1845) was quoted by his son Darius: "After Jacob Hess completed his mills for Herr Orendorff on the Big Antietam, he took Peggy to wife and with her fled to the Little Antietam, where he built a large dwelling, Swiss barn and a flour mill." The barn and the mill are gone, but the house remains, the oldest in Keedysville.

The large log wing with its irregularly placed openings was the first section of the house Hess built. This building may have followed the early German floor plan, with a center chimney surrounded by three rooms, for there are stone piers in the cellar that might be the remains of supports for the massive stonework of a multi-flued chimney. This stonework has been partially removed, and the stairway in the center hall now rises above it.

The cellar is entered both from steps under the stairs in the center hall and from a flight of stone steps leading from the exterior of the house on the west side. One window still has the original wooden grille, a doorframe still carries a pair of wooden pintels attached with rose-head nails, and several cubbies are built into the wall to hold candles or lanterns.

A central hall now bisects each floor of this wing of the house, and the stairway to the second floor is in this hall. The west side of the central hall has been divided into two rooms. The south room remains intact with a fireplace on the dividing wall next to the hall. The mantel has pyramidal panels and is a replacement from a later period.

The chair rail is original. The small room to the north has been divided into a kitchenette and bathrooms.

A narrow dining room, the depth of the log section, joins the hall to the east. Built into a corner of this room is a large cupboard with eight-pane glass doors in its upper section that may have been built around 1820. Woodwork is original. Most windows have replacement two-over-two sashes.

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