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A refurbished memory

Homeowner becomes part of heritage witnessed as a child

Homeowner becomes part of heritage witnessed as a child

January 07, 2007|by PAT SCHOOLEY

The address is Leitersburg Smithsburg Road, but the property is set so far back, is so sheltered, that it seems to be another place and another time. A narrow gravel lane goes west for half a mile, past two other homes, then curls into woodlands. Soon it opens into an ample hollow with a small red barn, a fenced garden and a log house overlooking Little Grove Creek at the foot of the hill. This stream winds from east of Smithsburg to Bowman's Mill, where it joins Little Antietam Creek.

Marian Griffith grew up in the Leitersburg area, one of the Trovinger clan that has lived in this county for more than 100 years. She knew the farmstead as a child when a German Baptist family named Bayer rented it from Dr. Charles F. Hess. She would come with her parents to fish in the creek. Griffith went to college in West Virginia, bought property there and later moved to Hagerstown, where she teaches. She was content in the house she had restored until the summer of 2004, when she saw the auction ad for the familiar old farmstead and nine acres surrounding it.

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Michael Kemmerer, a technical education instructor, and his wife, Tammy, had bought the property in 1999. It was on the brink. Trees had grown into the cook kitchen, the barn had nearly collapsed and mice, squirrels and birds inhabited the barn and house. The Kemmerers used their considerable skills to restore both. They offered the house at auction in 2004, having completed most of the restoration projects that it needed. Griffith worked hard to gather the funds needed to buy the house, and hers was the winning bid among four contestants.

A discovery

This land was once part of the 451-acre patent called Resurvey on Webb's Discovery, located in the Upper Antietam and Jerusalem Hundreds. This property had been patented by William Webb and was owned by his widow, Margaret Webb, in 1783. A curious deed dated Nov. 26, 1783, transfers "30 acres of land, part of Resurvey on Webbs Discovery from George Lambert to Michael Geiser." It also references land "conveyed by Christopher Good to said Michael Geiser by deeds dated the 25th day of February in the year of our Lord 1797 for 62 and 1/4 acres and also that part of a tract of land called the Resurvey on Webbs Discovery conveyed by Christian Good to the said Michael Geiser by deed dated August 31, 1814 for 5/8 acres - parcels contiguous ... 92 and 7/8 acres." It appears that later facts were inserted in this earlier deed to correct errors.

Divisions and additions

Michael Geiser owned the property until his death in 1831. Geiser's property was divided among his nine heirs, and Samuel Barr acquired these 92 acres, 3 roods and 5 perches in 1832. Four years later his heirs sold it to George Kessinger. Kessinger and his son George Kessinger Jr. lived in the house until 1897.

Around 1850, the Kessingers built the second story of logs salvaged from another building in the area, expanded the porch and created the second-story porch. In 1926, David Myers and his wife, Catherine, acquired 46 acres of the property. At that time, the house had 12 rooms in three sections. Dolores Myers Smith remembers her mother heating wash water in kettles in the cellar fireplace and her father butchering there. The house was wired for electricity in 1946, and the dining room ceiling was elevated in two of its corners to accommodate the heights of a tall case clock and a corner cupboard. In 1954, David Myers tore down the eastern-most section of the house, a log wing without a cellar. The farmstead had a corncrib and wagon shed near the barn, a granary and three chicken houses then. The farmstead was sold in 1960 to Abe Grossnickle and sold again two years later to Dr. Charles F. and Anna Hess, who rented it out.

All the work adds up

The small house appears to have been built in stages, log on the east and brick on the west. But the more Michael Kemmerer worked, the more convinced he was that both the cellar and first story were built at the same time, the end of the 18th century. The original porch extended only across the brick section. At one time a staircase led from the cook kitchen up, through the first floor to the loft, ending in the fireplace chimney, suggesting that this chimney is a later addition.

The cellar, which is enclosed by the stone foundation and opens facing the stream, is divided into two spaces. On the west, the cook kitchen section of the basement has a new brick floor and the large fireplace. This fireplace has an original cast-iron fire back found on the property, protecting its back wall. On the east, the storage cellar, with its low ceiling, is still accessed through its original door under the porch and now holds the furnace and other utilities for the house. When it rains hard and the water table rises, clear water enters near the northeast corner of this space and travels diagonally across the floor and under the wall until it exits through the door to the other basement. Marian Griffith just needs to remember to open the door.

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