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Springs of South County

Belinda Springs is situated on land south of Sharpsburg

Belinda Springs is situated on land south of Sharpsburg

November 16, 2008|By PAT SCHOOLEY / Special to The Herald-Mail

o This is the 172nd in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

The house at Belinda Springs sits south of Sharpsburg on a private gravel lane a half-mile east of Harpers Ferry Road. Mature woodlands line the lane, then open on the right into a broad flood plain that slopes gently to Antietam Creek.

On the left, a massive stone chimney dominates the stone faade of the house facing the lane. Behind the stone section of this house stands a log wing sheathed in clapboard. Originally, two distinct buildings standing about eight feet apart, these were joined into a single structure by enclosing the space between them. The stone section had a large cooking fireplace with a wooden lintel at the ground level and a smaller one on the first floor. The log building originally had no heat source.

These buildings appear to have been built after 1800 but before 1840. A stone springhouse that shelters the limestone spring, once the water supply for the homestead, sits closer to the stream, dug into the earth.

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Jacob Gardenhour accumulated 138-plus acres of land south and east of Sharpsburg. Sometime between 1818 and 1822 Gardenhour built a resort, which he named after his wife, Belinda. The mineral springs on the property were reputed to have medicinal qualities.

Gardenhour built a two-story, eight-bay frame hotel that was attached to the north side of the still extant log structure. Scharf's "History of Western Maryland" describes Belinda Springs as having "A number of cottages also billiard-houses, ten-pin alleys, bath-houses, drinking saloons, and barber shops The grounds were neatly and tastefully laid out with carriage-roads and gravel walks and adorned with trees and ornamental shrubbery." A racetrack was also said to have been laid out on the flood plain in front of the complex.

Guests would come during "watering season," which began in June, and lodge in "seven comfortable family rooms" and "several lodging rooms," according to an 1825 advertisement by Jacob R. Thomas, who "respectfully informs the public that he has leased, for a term of years, Belinda Establishment."

Thomas went on to say that, "A passage from this place to Harper's Ferry and back can be had at any time as the proprietor is furnished with pleasure boats for that purpose," and added, "This spring is delightfully situated at the base of a beautiful hill, about one hundred yards from Antietam Creek. According to an analysis by Dr. De Butts, the water contains Sulphate of Magnesia, Carbonate of Iron and Sulphate and Carbonate of Lime. The surrounding scenery is lovely and picturesque and the spot combines much that is calculated to impart health to the sickly and pleasure to the healthy."

The resort ceased to function in 1832 when a cholera epidemic swept through the Irish workers who were building the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and people were afraid to come to a resort so close to the outbreak. The property reverted to a farm.

In 1850, Jacob Gardenhour's executor, John Gardenhour, deeded the 138 1/16-acre Belinda Springs Farm to Jacob Snavely for $8,150.21. John Snavely inherited the property from his father, and his heirs sold the property to Ella M. Lum in 1899 with a mortgage of $3,000. Thirty years later, the mortgage was foreclosed and the property sold to John and Rosie Baker for $3,273.38.

Belinda Springs was touched by the Battle of Antietam as were many of the properties in Sharpsburg. Troops circled along Antietam Creek to flank the Confederates' stand at Burnside Bridge and forded the creek at John Snavely's farm. The spot is now called Snavely's Ford. Union Brig. Gen Isaac P. Rodman was mortally wounded there. Casualties were brought to the hotel for medical treatment.

When Kermit Midthun (pronounced "mid-tune") and his wife, Leonor, contracted to purchase the farm in 1963 from George and Geneva Griffith, the Midthuns were working overseas as diplomats. They purchased the property as a home for their retirement. They knew nothing of the property's history as a resort. John Baker had filled in the sulfur springs and built a barn, which had by then collapsed. The hotel was gone as were the cottages on the hill in back of it. No vestige of the racetrack or other amenities remained, and the dry stone wall that followed the west side of the lane had fallen in many places.

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