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Log cabin resurrected

August 06, 2006|by PAT SCHOOLEY

The decrepit Ridenour Farm stood empty in 1996, nestled in a patch of woods along a small stream more than a third of a mile from Hopewell Road. The small three-bay, brick-cased log house had deteriorated but still had a good metal roof and all its window sashes, nine-over-six sashes on the first floor of the original log section and six-over-six in the rest of the structure. The stone barn was roofless, and other outbuildings had collapsed.

That year the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation (CHIEF) purchased the Ridenour Farm. It was buying land to become part of its 1,733-acre Newgate Industrial Park.

Because the federal Economic Development Agency would be permitting, licensing and funding the new industrial park, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act came into play. Evaluations of archaeological sites and historic structures were required. This process is used to determine the value of cultural resources before they are destroyed by projects using federal funds. The act requires alternate ways of executing these projects to be considered so that the least damage is done to pieces of our history. Essentially, a win-win situation is sought so that the resources can be saved and the project can go forward.

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George Ridenour was born in Germany in 1733, and his family migrated to the U.S. in the late 1730s. By the 1760s, he had settled in Hagerstown and married Barbara Kershner, with whom he had two sons, Martin, born in 1754, and Benjamin. The Ridenour and Kershner families amassed several thousand acres in the Conococheague District, which they farmed. Martin eventually inherited a portion of a tract called Amendment to Trouble with Contentment. He also received a deed for 11.25 acres of Resurvey of Hager's Delight from Jonathan Hager in 1789 for 35 pounds and 17 shillings. The 1783 Tax Assessment of Washington County says Martin Ridenour, a farmer, owned 116 acres of woods, three acres of meadows, 50 acres of arable land, six horses and seven black cows.

When he died in 1795, the inventory of his estate included cattle, horses, hogs, sheep, potatoes, flax, wheat, rye, corn and oats. The Record Book of the Valuation of Yearly Rents of Real Estate states that, in 1800, the Ridenour property included "one old log house formerly a dwelling house, of no use, one two story square log house 25 feet by 18 with a cellar under the whole in good order." The foundations of that house are beneath the house that still stands on the property.

Martin Ridenour's estate was divided equally among his six daughters and two sons, with the estate held in trust for the four youngest who were not of age. Martin Ridenour Jr. sold his 169-acre share to Isaac Bear for 100 pounds in 1807, and, a year later, sold him another nine acres and a farmhouse. By 1834, Bear owned two farms, one of which he had purchased from Martin Ridenour's heirs. Isaac's son John Bear elected to buy out his siblings' share of the Ridenour farm, and it was John who built an addition onto the house.

The 87.07-acre parcel containing the farmstead remained in the Bear family until 1937, when Lindsey and Jean McGruer purchased it. Seven years later, they sold to Lloyd and Bertie Bowders. D. Newton and Mildred Litton became its owners in 1964, and it was Mildred Litton who sold it to CHIEF in 1996.

By the time the Phase II Archaeological Evaluation was written in 2000, one side of the property's stone-end barn had collapsed, and the little house became the object of vandals. Windows were broken out, the mantel stolen, bricks fell from the walls, and tons of trash were dumped inside and out. The Archaeological Evaluation described the main block of the farmhouse as brick-cased log with puncheon insulation built between 1780 and 1800 and added that the brick rear wing with its double porch under the main roof span was added between 1830 and 1840. In addition, archaeological deposits were found. Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) found the farmstead eligible for the National and Maryland Registers of Historical Places. It recommended "the industrial park be designed to preserve in place the significant portions of the historic property."

Richard Phoebus, then the new CEO of CHIEF, struggled with his options. He worked with Robert Arch, Washington County Director of Planning, and the Washington County Historical Trust (WCHT), which urged him to offer, at nominal cost, a two-acre parcel with the deteriorated buildings, and they would help find a new owner.

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