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Current owners want home to be accurate to historical era

Current owners want home to be accurate to historical era

March 04, 2007|by PAT SCHOOLEY

Bell's Choice: This is the 162nd in a series of stories about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County




LEITERSBURG - Near the Pennsylvania border, Rocky Forge Road heads south from Leitersburg Pike, a narrow road that quickly turns to one lane of gravel. A large, five-bay stone house stands on the left, surrounded by outbuildings, a solitary farmstead among its fields.

Herbert C. Bell's "History of Leitersburg District, Washington County, Maryland," published in 1898, states that in 1765 Peter Shiess patented a 597-acre parcel of land as All That's Left. Two years later, Shiess sold 248 acres of this parcel to Peter Bell, who called it Bell's Choice. Bell and his brother Anthony had emigrated from Germany between 1745 and 1750 and settled in what was to become Washington County. Herbert C. Bell also writes that, on Nov. 25, 1776, Peter Bell was elected a member of the County Committee of Observation for Washington County and that the following month this committee ordered the county militia, in which Peter Bell was a captain, to march to the assistance of Gen. George Washington. This committee's minutes indicate that the militia went to New Jersey in January 1777. Thomas Johnson, the first governor of Maryland, wrote on Jan. 20, 1777, that the battalion had arrived in Philadelphia.

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Peter Bell died the following year at his home in Hagerstown. A 1950 article in the local newspaper said he died of the effects of the extreme campaign the preceding year. Bell left his wife, Elizabeth Leiter Bell, with six children. His second child and eldest son, Frederick, was only 10 at the time of his father's death. Frederick, who inherited Bell's Choice, was trained to be a cabinetmaker but primarily worked as a farmer. He was active in his community, serving as superintendent of Jacob's Church and on the building committee for St. Paul's Lutheran Church.

Frederick Bell fathered three children with his first wife, Rosina Lantz, and 12 with his second wife, Maria Emerick. Herbert C. Bell's "History" reports that Frederick built a stone barn on his property in 1806 and a stone house in 1812.

Architectural historian Paula Reed, owner of Hagerstown-based Paula S. Reed and Associates Inc., agrees, stating that the appearance of the house supports this building date.

Frederick Bell died in 1839. The property remained in the Bell family until the mid-20th century. While the barn no longer stands, the five-bay house with its two-story ell remains, as does the stone and frame summer kitchen and dairy, a testament to this family.

The two-story, five-bay house faces south with the two-story, two-bay wing extending to the north. Window frames are moderately wide with a bead on the inside edge and finished with ogee molding. Sills are heavy and wooden. The main door of the house opens in the middle bay into a wide center hall with a staircase leading to the second floor. The low banister is supported by slender, square balusters with turned newel posts.

A large dining room with a fireplace sits on the left of this hall, with a small room, perhaps a butler's pantry, behind it. Double parlors stood on the right of the hall and are now combined into a single, large living room with a fireplace. The kitchen, with its large cooking fireplace, is in the ell behind the main block of the house.

Four bedrooms, two on either side of the hall, fill the upstairs of the main block. The second story of the ell, two steps lower than the main level, connects to the upper hall at a double landing with steps leading downstairs and to both the front and back halls. Several of the doors are original, having six raised panels. Steps lead to the attic where pegged rafters support the slate roof. On the roughcast coat of one of the chimney columns is written, "John Bell 1856," in bold, red script. This tantalizing signature could belong to Frederick's nephew, who lived from 1800 until 1880 and was the most famous of the many potters in this family, or it could be that of another of the several John Bells in the family.

The cellar can be entered both from interior stairs and from a bulkhead on the east side of the house. The original hewn summer beam and joists still support the dining room.

The house has evolved over time. Windows are one-over-one, with wavy glass panes, replacements for what would probably have been six-over-six sashes. The wide, single-story porch with its square posts was added during the Victorian period, and the cross-gable dormer typical of the mid-19th century Carpenter Gothic style might be an alteration from this period, as are the four-panel front door and the louvered shutters.

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