Keeper of secrets: Keep Tryst

Keep Tryst left behind many clues of its past but not a key to what they hold

April 18, 2010|By PAT SCHOOLEY / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • The Keep Tryst complex, located near Knoxville, Md., is believed to be started around 1804. The grounds and outbuildings are filled with oddities make some historians scratch their heads.
Photo by Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer,

This is the 180th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

In the 18th century, Keep Tryst Road was the main route connecting Harpers Ferry, W.Va., with Frederick, Md., a part of the longer road from Baltimore to Winchester, Va. It ran along the very southern edge of Washington County near the Potomac River. Enterprises sprang up along the road, taking advantage of the river.

Settled just north of a river's bend with views of South Mountain to the east, the Blue Ridge to the south and Elk Ridge to the west, stands Keep Tryst. Slightly elevated above the road on land that rises to the north, this 10-acre parcel is part of one of the vast early patents called Keep Tryst, which encompassed much of the southern Pleasant Valley. The farmstead still has several early structures, all altered as their uses changed.


Most old properties have peculiarities whose purposes or origins can't be explained, but Keep Tryst seems to have far more than its share of these oddities. Perhaps this is because new opportunities came along in this area. Work was not just farming but an ever-changing succession of industries, and buildings were transformed to take advantage of these changing opportunities.

In 1821, Caspar Wever purchased land along the river, intending to take advantage of the river's 15-foot drop from Harpers Ferry to Weverton, Md., the industrial village he imagined near the Washington/Frederick County line. These industries would be powered by the river's force. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, both begun in 1828, were built along the river through the area and provided transportation to larger markets. Early maps show a stone grist mill, the General Henderson Steel and File Manufacturing Co., the Longbridge Mill for Sawing Stone, the Bingham Store, the Marquette Bar and General Store, a hotel, a train station, a canal lock, a lock house, a canal storage building, a distillery and a turntable for trains.

Keep Tryst's beginning

The Keep Tryst complex seems to have been started around 1804. A huge mounting block near the road gives some credence to the lore that this might have been a stagecoach stop, but there is no certainty.

A small springhouse constructed of very large blocks of cut red sandstone stands near the road. (This is called Seneca stone because it was quarried near Seneca, Md.) Unusually broad stone stairs access the spring in the lower level of this building, suggesting some more public use than just the family springhouse. Incorporated in the west-facing wall beside these steps is a large rectangular stone with the date April 18, 1816, with a Masonic symbol neatly carved into it. What did the spring have to do with April 1816 or the Masons? Or was this an unused stone left over from another job?

Local lore says that the upper level of this structure once served as a school for local children, and several sets of roughly carved initials in the walls around the upper door with the dates of 1908 and 1909 support this. Water from the spring rises beneath the building and flows into the cooling trough that spans the room. It flows from there outside into a small basin that empties into a nearby pond.

Beside the springhouse is an unusual two-story, hip-roofed carriage house, roughly 20-feet square, with a small machine shed on its south side. The shed has a curved opening. Holes along the north side of the structure's second story once allowed pigeons or doves access to nest boxes inside. More initials have been carved in the door.

The home

The two-story, nine-bay house faces south toward the road. Local lore says in 1804 Peter Miller built the first section of the house, a four-bay stone structure. Curiously, he built the house with no cellar and with the back (north) wall below ground to the level of the windowsills. The second level of this faade is brick. Could the original structure have had just one story with the second floor built of brick later?

J. J. Moore, who owned the property from 1867 until 1908, probably added the two-bay frame wing on the east and the three-bay wing on the west. These wings extend south beyond the original stone block, and a double porch was built across the original house between the two wings. These four bays have been stuccoed, then struck to resemble large cut stones, with arches and keystones marked above windows and doors. These strike marks have been painted with red ocher paint. A black Greek key pattern decorates the stucco at the ceiling level of the upper porch.

It's likely that when the wings were built, the wall between the two front rooms of the original block was removed, making one large room with fireplaces at each end. Double Victorian doors on the south wall replace the original entrance door of the south faade. The staircase, now wider and less steep than the original, rises on the north side of this room.

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