Two centuries of evolution

October 17, 2004|by PAT SCHOOLEY

WALNUT HILL: This is the 153rd article in a series about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County

Spickler Road runs north from U.S. 40 between Clear Spring and Conococheague Creek. After crossing Broadfording and Hicksville roads, houses are scattered intermittently among the fields and wooded lots that line the road along its length. Not far from the Pennsylvania border, Walnut Hill spans the road.

On the left, a modern concrete block workshop of moderate size sits close to the road. On the right stands a stone house, with its gable end facing the road. The North facade has five irregularly spaced bays, with a door in the central bay sheltered by a small shed-roofed porch held on chamfered posts. The south facade has three bays on the west, with a galleried porch under the main roof span sheltering the four eastern bays.

Landscape of stone and water

This house sits on a small piece of level ground created by stone retaining walls. These walls run beside the public roadway north of the house, curl around the east end of the house until they encounter a rock outcrop, and run from the road toward the east a few feet south of the driveway, sloping from a couple of feet high to almost a story's height at its eastern end. A walkway runs east along this wall from the road, where a millstone serves as a step. Stone steps interrupt the wall to carry traffic from the drive to the walk and the house. A ridge north of the house forms a long bluff of outcropped stone several yards high; it serves as a divider between the stone house and the one next door.


Beyond the retaining walls, the yard slopes gently toward the east and then flattens. A spring that flows from Fairview Mountain west of Clear Spring gushes from a rock outcrop on the south side of the lawn and spills into a water trace filled with rainbow trout. A large, shallow, decorative pond with stone sides and bottom (the show pond) fills the middle of the yard, fed from a spring beneath the ridge to the north. Beyond it are four long, parallel rectangular runs, three filled and under sturdy wire tops that protect the fish from great blue herons and other predators.

Records in the Maryland Archives refer to this property as the Cushwa Rearing Station or Cushwa Springs, leased for much of the time by the state to rear trout fingerlings for stocking state waters in the fall. The state built this facility in about 1926 to take advantage of the natural springs that emerge in the lower yard to water the ponds. A 1931 reference in the Maryland Archives mentions a new pond 700 feet long, making it likely that some Depression-era works program might have been responsible for at least some of the construction. Richard E. and Mary Susan Cushwa owned the farm at that time. The show pond was used to exhibit large trout, and people who stopped to picnic would admire these fish. At one time an attempt was made to raise fish from roe, but it was not successful. Maryland continues to raise fish and to stock streams with them.

Following the Cushwas

In 1807, David Cushwa purchased 151.25 acres, part of a land patent called Bowles Establishment, from Eleanor and James Bowles for $4,500. Cushwa was born in Clear Spring District in 1777, son of John Cushwa who was born in Lancaster, Pa., to immigrant German parents. Capt. David Cushwa fought in the War of 1812 with the Maryland militia and was crippled by a fall from his horse while defending Baltimore in 1814. He returned home and lived in a large log house north of his parents. In 1820, he built the stone house, which he called Walnut Hill, and moved there with his wife, Ann Catherine (Resley), and their nine children.

David Cushwa built a comfortable house. The western half of the front block holds double parlors, each with a fireplace. The mantel and woodwork in the south parlor is fancier than that in the north parlor, with pyramidal panels below the mantelshelf and in the corner blocks of the window and door architraves. This woodwork appears to be from an 1850s upgrade to the house that included faux tiger and bird's-eye maple graining on the parlor doors and Carpenter locks on all the first-floor doors. The wall between the two parlors has been almost entirely removed to join the spaces.

East of the parlors, a hall spans the width of the building, with exterior doors opening at either end. A staircase ascends to the second level on the east side of this hall. The handrail is simple with round, tapered balusters and newel posts. A landing with a window stands at the top of this flight of stairs, and a short set of steps reverses direction and continues to the second floor. The staircase continues to the attic, crossing in front of the landing window as it rises.

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