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Robert Clagett House

A Miraculous Makover

A Miraculous Makover

November 13, 2007|By CATHERINE VAN GILDER

Click here to view the slideshow.

It's easy to see why the Robert Clagett House was featured on the front cover of a book titled "Architectural & Historic Treasures of Washington County, Maryland." Elegant and meticulous, the little limestone house is an accurate representation of fine 18th century craftsmanship, quite deserving of such photographic display.

Contentedly settled into a tidy slope among 10 acres of wildflowers, rolling pastures and ornamental trees in verdant Pleasant Valley near Boonsboro, the Clagett House, built in 1770, served as the miller's house for the mill a short distance away. The home's namesake, Robert Clagett, owned the farm and surrounding tracts soon thereafter. Clagett came from a large, wealthy family of merchant millers. Years later his son-in-law, Edward Garrett, purchased the property and nearby mill.

Sharing the landscape with a 19th century post-and-beam milking barn and a two-bay garage, the house bares many distinctive characteristics. Appealing voussoirs, or flat stone arches, above the windows and doors are reminiscent of domestic English Colonial design, as well as the quoin construction that anchors both the corners of the house and window openings. Most notable, though, is that the 2,000-square-foot house has never had any additions, except for front and rear porches and dormers added in 1910 and 1932. The kitchen, although modernized over the years, had remained in its original basement location until its most recent restoration in the late 1990s.

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For 228 years, families lived in the Clagett House and called it home. One woman moved into the home in 1928 as a bride and raised seven children. Her family kept the home after she moved out and rented it to tenants. Four-legged critters also called it home, packing the interior walls with walnuts and nesting material. Windowsills began to rot, fireplaces were filled in, the wiring needed updating - general neglect began to set in. Eventually the home was put into the hands of a real estate agent. What might have sent other potential buyers galloping in the opposite direction didn't deter the home's current owners, who fell in love with the charming piece of history and bought it in the spring of 1998, just two weeks after the home went on the market.

Amazingly, most of the original materials remained in the property. Some sleuthing behind a few ill-placed walls and layers of wallpaper and paneling uncovered more clues. After placing the Clagett property on the National Register of Historic Places, the ambitious couple set to work on bringing the property into the 21st century while maintaining its 18th century integrity, enlisting the help of the skilled restoration experts at Paul S. Reed and Associates of Hagerstown.

Three large rooms with 10-foot ceilings and random-width oak flooring make up the main floor. The highlight in each room is its massive fireplace. All the fireplaces needed serious restoration. Carefully peeling back layers of wallpaper, the restoration crew found the silhouette of an overmantel with crossettes over the parlor's 12-foot-wide fireplace. The dining room's fireplace still had the original paneled mantel with dentil molding, including another unusual feature - at one time handmade wooden pegs were embedded into the plaster walls at two-foot intervals to hang chairs. Only one sawed-off peg remains.

The huge fireplace in the third room posed a logistical problem; it was in the way. This small room was to be the new kitchen, a chef's dream, complete with top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances and period-inspired mahogany kitchen cabinets. The fireplace took up a large part of much-needed wall space. Always working on the principle of doing "the least amount of damage" to the original materials, the owners came up with a wonderful solution.

A new AGA gas stove of old design was inserted into the exposed stone firebox opening, rounding out the impressive workspace.

A beautiful, honey-colored oak staircase with timeworn treads leads to the cozy top floor. Originally used as an attic, the master bedroom and second room are finished with a mixture of beaded board, plaster and exposed stone walls. Natural light abounds in every corner, illuminating the warm white walls and refinished poplar floors. A luxurious master bathroom was added, complete with a view of the backyard pond and surrounding meadows. Nooks and crannies were utilized for built-in bookcases, storage and a convenient laundry area.

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