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Restored and revealed

February 22, 2004|by PAT SCHOOLEY

The small house at the northwest corner of Main and Hall Streets in Sharpsburg is bright with fresh paint and sparkles with recent attention. It is Sharpsburg's latest addition to the National Register of Historic Places. Standing on lot No. 130 of the original plat for Sharpsburg, laid out by Joseph Chapline in 1763, this parcel was conveyed to Chapline's daughter Sarah by his 1769 last will and testament. Fifty years later, in 1819, Sarah Chapline deeded the lot to her nephew, Joseph Chapline Hayes, for a dollar. In 1832, Hayes sold the east half of this lot, measuring 51 1/2 by 206 feet, to Jacob Highbarger for $45, a price indicating that the lot still had not been developed.

Jacob Highbarger is listed in public documents as a "house carpenter," and it is likely that he built the roughly 24-by-30-foot stone house on his lot in that same year. Stones are coursed with original pointing in most areas. Two elongated stones meet above original windows, forming lintels.

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The lot rises sharply to the rear, a thin layer of soil covering monolithic bedrock, so that the first floor is built into earth at the back. The front door, located in the westernmost of three bays, stands beneath a three-light transom and opens into a small hall with stairs on the left.

When building the house, Highbarger laid the floors first before erecting the walls. Baseboards are 2 inches thick with a simple bead along the top edge. He divided the house from gable to gable, creating two rooms. The front space was a parlor with two windows facing the street and a door into the hall on the opposite wall. Chair rail trims the room, and a thimble opens into the flue to accommodate a stove.

The space at the back of the house, which includes the area under the stairs, held the kitchen with a large cooking fireplace on the east wall. This has a simple mantel with a molded mantelshelf and a pair of four-panel fireplace doors that were used to close the fireplace when it was not in use. A door to the left of the fireplace opens to the exterior, providing a secondary entrance to Hall Street, and an interior door connects the two rooms.

The stairs ascend from the first-floor hall to the second level, paneled with wide, random-width beaded boards. At the top, the staircase leads north down the hall toward the rear of the house. The staircase has simple rectangular balusters and a round hand rail. The newel posts are perhaps 3 inches square with chamfered corners below the rail and rounded, chamfered tops. Painting the tops dark gray and the chamfers white emphasized this little decorative element.

The second floor holds two bedrooms. The larger, toward the street, still has original gold paint on the woodwork. It has a simple black mantel with flat pilasters flanking the firebox and a molded shelf. The slightly smaller north bedroom still has its almost luminous salmon-painted woodwork. The south end of the hall, above the main entrance, became a much smaller room with peg rail on all walls. This peg rail was used for hanging clothes. The small room was used as a closet.

The upper hall opens at ground level into the back yard on the north. Highbarger built a small porch to protect this entrance. The staircase continues to a third level. Here he built and finished a fifth room. This room has two windows and a low, sloping ceiling. Original doors in its north and south knee walls access the space under the roof for storage.

Sometime after the stone house was built, Highbarger attached a log addition to the west side but did not connect it to the house with an interior door. Probably built as a carpenter's workshop/warehouse combination, this building is an unusual example of corner-post log construction. Vertical log corner posts have diagonal braces mortised, tenoned and pegged into them and into the plates. Horizontal logs, set into trough mortises in the corner posts, form walls above stone foundations. These foundations are considerably higher on the north and west walls because of the slope of the ground. Inside, these foundations rise into the room at about the level of the front windowsills and are topped with a shelf. This shelf still has vestiges of its original red-brown paint.

A small cellar was excavated under this section, exposing a massive outcrop of bedrock at the back of the cellar. This cellar is accessed from a bulkhead in the sidewalk. Steps beside the bulkhead, adjacent to the stone section, rise several feet to the floor level of the warehouse, which is entered through a pair of four-paneled doors beneath a five-light transom.

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