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
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Windows have six-over-six sashes and narrow frames. The west wing has floor-length windows on the first floor and a lovely original mantelpiece with reeded columns and a bowed panel with horizontal reeding beneath its mantelshelf.

The second floor of the original house presents more mysteries. This space is entered from the staircase on the west side of the room or from doors at either end opening from the wings. This central space has been divided into two sections. The space at the back (north) is an ample room with the most elaborate mantelpiece in the house: two reeded columns on either side of the firebox and a bowed, reeded panel beneath the mantelshelf. The other space is L-shaped and dominated by a curved wall that is the corner of the back room. Neither leg of the L is wider than ten feet. What was this area used for?

Adding to the mystery are the doors, opposite one another, that lead to the north and south upper porches. Both are grained, six-panel doors, probably from the 18th or early 19th century. In addition, the four-light transom above the south door is the most elaborate in the house, having curved muntins forming decorative patterns over its lights. Graining was used in the most formal parts of early homes in this county. Was this second floor space once used for entertaining? Or were the doors and architraves moved to the second level during some renovation? Some early Washington County homes have ballrooms on upper floors. Could this have been a ballroom? Why the two rooms and the curved wall?


The two-bay east wing also has an odd feature. In the front (south) second story room, the corner joining the south wall with the ceiling is curved rather than square as the three other walls are. Why? Probably the most peculiar feature is in the attic above. This finished room has sloped ceilings, following the line of the roof from a knee wall up, with dormers at the front and at the back. All but one of the dormers are constructed in the ordinary way. However, one front dormer window is accessible only by ducking under the ceiling which has been built across the dormer to the level of the knee wall. Why would a dormer be built without incorporating its headroom into the space and accessing all the light from the window?

Owners' occupations

Early owners of Keep Tryst had various occupations. One owned a mill for cutting stone, another was superintendent of Jessup Prison. Apples, peaches, cherries and pears were grown, and some of this fruit was sold at a stand along the road. Remnants of these orchards can still be seen growing along the road nearby.

In 1911, Joseph H. Savage purchased the property, then 110.9 acres, for $10,000. Savage had a distillery, and many signs have been found on the property that read: "Savage Distillery, Weverton MD sell directly to you" and offering whiskey in jugs for $2.75/gallon, delivered.

As an adult, Savage's daughter, Natalie Savage Carlson, wrote children's stories based on her life at the farm in Washington County, then called Shady Grove. These stories offer a picture of life in the home in the early 20th century. Carlson's books, "School Bells in the Valley" and "The Half Sisters," though fiction, depict life in Pleasant Valley during the early 20th century and can still be found in the library. Carlson never mentioned the distillery, feeling it an inappropriate subject for children of the age for which she was writing.

A. J. and Nancy Nicolosi purchased the property in 1991 from owners who had used it as a bed and breakfast. They have lovingly repaired the property and raised their five children here, giving them the advantages of life in the country. The Nicolosis are just the 13th family to own this fascinating home. They love the history of the house, and all its quirks seem to fit their lives. New uses are still found for old technologies. Plants are placed in the springhouse cooling trough, where they prosper during winter weather.

Terms to know

  • Reeded: having parallel convex or semi-cylindrical elements.

  • Graining: painted to imitate the grain of finish wood, often used to produce the look of a more expensive wood.

  • Muntin: one of the thin strips of wood molding used to hold panes of glass within a window.

  • Greek key: a classical Greek style border decoration composed of repetitive linear patterns, most commonly turned at right angles, forming a continuous band.

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