Black Oak Ridge homestead built with great care

August 08, 2010|By PAT SCHOOLEY
  • The railings inside the home have carefully reeded panels alternating with plain ones beneath a narrow top molding. The handrail is supported by delicate rectangular balusters. A wide, wooden panel follows the rise of the steps and is decorated with vertical reeding.
Photo by Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

This is the 182nd in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

Rench Road extends west from Md. 65 to Downsville Pike. The land along it is rich and flat and full of springs. Water level is just below the surface of the ground. Just west of the railroad track that strings along an elevated berm cutting south along the landscape is a long lane heading north. Well back from the road stands a collection of buildings, everything needed for a self-sufficient farm, a homestead.

A great stone bank barn, 120 feet long, stands toward the back of this array, flanked by a work shop, buggy shed, blacksmith's shop and a pair of corn cribs now covered with siding. A summer kitchen, springhouse and a hog barn stand nearby the house. On its east side, a stone-lined hand dug well is topped with a pump. It still supplies water for the family.


Well beyond the barn, an intermittent row of old trees indicates the path of a road that once led to Hagerstown. A small graveyard, part of an early Mennonite church complex, is nearby. The heart of the homestead, a stately brick house, turns its back to Rench Road and faces this missing road. Its main faade is laid in Flemish Bond while the others are in common bond, five rows of stretchers to one of header bricks. All stand on sturdy, low-stone foundations. The handsome house, two stories high, has fireplaces in all its rooms and 10-foot ceilings.

Henry and Jacob Funk were Swiss Mennonite brothers who came to this country and began purchasing land in what would become Washington County. Henry Funk received a patent for 88 acres called Black Oak Ridge from Frederick Calvert, Sixth Lord Baltimore, in 1754, according to "The History of Washington County From the Earliest Settlements to the Present Time" by Thomas J. C. Williams.

Jacob laid out the town of Jerusalem, which became Funkstown, and the brothers owned much of the land west of Funkstown. Jacob deeded some of this property to his daughter, Mary, who married Philip Earhart.

On April 11, 1799, Philip Earhart and his wife sold Joseph Fiery a 312-acre parcel of a land grant named Marsh Head for 3,736 pounds. It is probable that Joseph Fiery built the handsome brick house shortly after, one of the earliest brick homes in the county. The land remained in the Fiery family until John Murdock purchased it in 1879, and that family held the property until 1943. It has been called "The Fiery Farm" and "Murdock Homestead."

The homestead's details

The house was built with great care with woodwork that is exceptional for this area. The main faade has four irregularly placed bays and broad brick chimneys with corbelled tops that rise from the end walls. The extraordinary front door architrave has its original fanlight with radiating wedges of glass, clear, red, blue, green, yellow and amber, topping the north-facing main door. The deep arch that holds this light has been reeded, a most unusual feature. The door itself has six raised panels and a box lock as does the door at the other end of the central hall. The porches sheltering both of these doors are replacements, built in the style of the time and following the shadows left by the originals.

Chair rail and the finger rail that follows the rise of the steps have carefully reeded panels alternating with plain ones beneath a narrow top molding. The simple handrail is supported by delicate rectangular balusters. A wide, wooden panel follows the rise of the steps and is decorated with vertical reeding. The most elaborate mantelpiece in the house stands in the northeast room, the parlor. A central oval panel has been quartered and each section reeded separately.

Behind the parlor is a dining room furnished with a long, oval table, two corner cupboards and a sideboard with knife boxes atop. The fireplace, as all the others in the house, has a small chimney cupboard tucked beside it. Ten-foot high ceilings give the house an air of spacious elegance.

To the left of the parlor, across the hall, is the kitchen, a modern room with a great marble-topped island in its center. Through a broad arch, it opens into the southeast space, now fitted to be a family dining room. The mantelpiece in the kitchen is simpler than that of the parlor, but of similar formal design. The family dining room has an entirely different type of mantelpiece with heavy curved brackets holding the shelf and curved, molded corners around the firebox. Floors are original random-width boards, chestnut in the kitchen and pine throughout the rest of the house.

Each of the rooms on the east side of the house has a door to the east. Originally, these doors led to a single-story, frame, shed-roofed room whose rafter tails had been fixed into the brickwork of the main block of the house, indicating that it was part of the original construction plan. This was an oddly informal appendage for such an elegantly designed house.

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