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Flour mill on sturdy foundation

Clear Spring-area property built from stone

Clear Spring-area property built from stone

December 12, 2009|By PAT SCHOOLEY

Editor's note: This is the 178th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

Dam No. 5 Road travels between Clear Spring Road and the C&O Canal. As it nears the canal, the road descends from farm fields to woodlands along Little Conococheague Creek, crossing the creek near its confluence with the Potomac River.

At this juncture stands a stately brick home facing east toward a meadow in front of a rim of trees that conceals the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. The land rises behind the house. Stone foundations from a barn, hidden by underbrush, lie here, as does a small family cemetery to the west.

To the right of the house, an old dam holds back the creek, water spraying from small gaps and splashing to the stream below. Cliff Springs Flour Mill once stood next to this dam just north of the house.


The house stands on sturdy stone foundations with a bulkhead leading to the basement on the left of the central door. The five bays are not quite symmetrically placed, being slightly more widely set on the south side of the facade. The front facade - the house's east side - is laid in Flemish bond as is the north wall up to the tops of its windows, indicating that these were the two public faces of the house. The other walls are laid in common bond, five rows of stretcher bricks to each row of headers.

Openings on the ground and first levels are topped with flared jack arches. Foundation walls have heavy mortised-and-tenoned frames held by pegs. A one-bay High Victorian porch, standing several steps above ground level, shelters the front door. This door opens into the main level of the house and is itself unusual, with six square panels above two rectangular ones.

The basement is divided into two unconnected sections. The back (west) half of this area is divided into two spaces, with the north room a large barrel-arched root cellar. This half of the basement probably supported an earlier structure that was later removed. When the present house was built around 1810, the earlier basement was expanded, but the sections weren't joined. Two entrances, the bulkhead beside the front door and one on the south side of the house, access the two sections of the foundation.

After the brick house was built, a small one-story addition was fixed to the south end of the house and a window on that side lengthened into a doorway. This door did not go directly into the addition, but rather onto a porch along its east side that was sheltered under its main roof span. No interior connection was made between the two spaces. This addition was later removed, leaving only its fading ghost on the south wall and remnants of foundation walls in the earth below. Most of its basement has been filled in, but it has not completely disappeared.

Beginnings of the mill

Peter Middlekauff built the home and mill. His name first appears in Washington County land records in 1798 when he purchased 186-plus acres of David's First Shift and Widows Last Shift from Henry and David Ridenour.

Eight years later, on April 21, 1806, Isaac Houser sold Middlekauff a 250-acre parcel, part of a tract named Poplar Grove, for 2,000 pounds. It was here Middlekauff built his home and mill in about 1810.

Six years later, Middlekauff purchased an adjacent 143.25 acres, parts of Poplar Grove and Terra Firma, from John Harry for $3,820. One of the boundary markers is described as "an ash tree sapling on the bank of the Potomac River," indicating the parcel had river access.

Middlekauff died in 1827, leaving his wife Hannah and six children without a will. After Hannah's death, the five surviving siblings engaged in an equity case in 1842 that settled the estate in 1846. Eldest son Samuel bought the interests of his brother, David, who had moved to Indiana, and that of his sister, Elizabeth.

The homestead passed out of the Middlekauff family in 1912.

Structure still sound in 21st century

When Ron Dolan decided to retire from his job in St. Louis, he and his wife, Jean, looked for a home closer to their children. They had lived in Columbia, Md., before going to the Midwest, and they had often visited Washington County during that period while collecting painted and grained furniture. So this area was familiar and the prime place to choose to live.

Initially, no properties they saw were quite right, and their search went on for years. They wanted something old that had privacy and protection from future development. At last their Realtor learned that the Cliff Springs property might be available.

Many changes had been made to the house, but once carpenter Rob Bowman assured them that the structure was sound, the Dolans made an offer. They bought Cliff Springs in 2006.

Restoration fits style

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