Sibert / Fernsler House

March 01, 2001

Sibert / Fernsler House

Editor's note: This is the 135th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.


Terms to know

Flemish bond: Header bricks and stretcher bricks alternate in each course, with the headers centering above the stretchers on the next course. Bonding is necessary to tie the back and front masonry units together.

Bargeboard: A board placed on the verge (incline) of the gable to conceal the ends of the rafters.

Bay: The space on a facade defined by a door or window.

Landis Road winds east past a series of new townhouses, doglegs in front of farmsteads, and finally reaches an open stretch of fields and pasture.


Amid this rural landscape, a brick house stands boarded-up on the north side of the road, still square and solid but abandoned. A concrete block well house occupies a prominent place in the front yard, and a charming stone springhouse shaded by brush is off to the east. Beyond the springhouse are the fallen remains of a vast stone barn.


The front facade of this two-story house is laid in Flemish bond. A water table topped with quarter-round molded bricks rests on the low limestone foundation. The brickwork in the remaining faces of the house is common bond, with three rows of stretchers between header rows. In Washington County, common bond is almost always five rows of stretchers between rows of headers.

Flat brick arches surmount each opening with the height of the arches diminishing from 1 1/2 bricks on the first level to 1/2 brick at the attic level. The entrance is in the central bay, with two windows on either side.

The ground slopes away toward a spring-fed stream behind the house.

The one-story rear wing has much higher foundations to accommodate this slope and opens almost at ground level at the rear.

The brickwork in the house, combined with the gable-end bargeboards that narrow toward the peak of the roof, and the wide, pegged door frame around the rear door indicate that this house was probably built in the late 18th century or the very early 19th century.

Brick structures were rare in this area before 1820, making this a most unusual example of local architecture.

In 1791, Wendel Sibert sold five contiguous parcels of land to Michael Fernsler for 750 pounds. The early deed describes a 100-acre parcel from "Coblers Hall," two smaller parcels from the "Resurvey on Meshack's Garden" and a little more than 11 acres from "Resurvey on the Old Fox Deceived." The deed also included "all houses, Edifices, buildings, Barns, Stables, Gardens, Feedings, Woods, underwoods, commons, commons or pastures" on the parcel.

While this seems to specify features of the land, it probably is a conventional list included in deeds of the period and may not reference actual characteristics. Given the architectural evidence, it would appear that either Wendel Sibert or Michael Fernsler built this brick house.

The property, including an additional 21-acre parcel purchased from Sibert in 1794, remained in Fernsler's family until his heirs sold it to Samuel McCauley in 1860. McCauley sold the 150 1/8 acres to his son John for $10,500. He then sold the same land to his son Charles for $9,758.12 in 1872, indicating that John had not been able to complete the deal. Charles' widow and children sold the property to Amos Harlan Shifler in 1894 for $6,377.65. Shifler's daughter, Fannie C. Stoner, inherited the property in 1918. She sold it a year later for $12,000 to Jacob Wesley Symons, who sold it five years later, taking back mortgages.

Symons had to take the property back to secure his mortgages and sold it in 1930 to Dr. Edward W. Ditto Jr., who bought the adjoining Henry McCauley farm at the same time. Deeds describe an easement through the McCauley property, giving access to the other farm because Landis Road had not yet been developed.

Dr. Ditto lived in Hagerstown but owned a dozen farms around the county.

He raised Belgian horses on farms along Mount Aetna Road, then Hereford cattle. His son, Edward III, remembers the farms fondly. He recalls playing in a large cave in the woods, visiting the little cemetery, digging blue thistles each summer and sledding down the road in the winters. Ditto sold both farms, 311.17 acres in all, to the Washington County Commissioners in 1974 for $350,000.

Program Open Space was new, and the County Commissioners sought these funds to purchase land for several parks, including the Ditto farms. This was to be a regional park, retaining its rural character.

Dr. Ditto III remembers his father insisting that this land always be kept in pristine condition for recreation. One of the proposed uses of the land was a golf course, with a farm museum using one of the early buildings as well.

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