This is the 188th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.
Near Smithsburg is a short road, once called Georgetown Road, that was recently renamed Federal Lookout Road to honor the Union's effort to keep track of J.E.B. Stuart as he protected Lee's retreat from Gettysburg, Pa.
Federal Lookout Road crosses Crystal Falls Drive and heads up South Mountain. Homes along it are scattered. A small subdivision stands to the north.
Finally an imposing brick home appears, newly painted yellow with white trim. A porch with round, tapered columns wraps around its east side. A flag flies. Buntings swag. A porch swing sways.
For years, this area has been known as Goat Hill, named for the goats that ran free, foraging on brush up and down the mountain, cleaning the peach orchards planted there. The name passed to the farmstead.
Frederick Miller started collecting adjacent parcels of property in 1886, finally accumulating a little more than 44 acres. Charles F. Miller and his wife, Annie E. Miller, purchased this property for $3,000 in 1909. In November 1911, Lancelot Jacques purchased 44 acres, 156 perches from the estate of Charles F. Miller and his wife for $6,500.
The following year, Lancelot Jacques and his wife, Alice B. Jacques, sold this same land to their son, Lancelot Jr., and his wife, Margaret, for "$2,000 and other favors." The deed noted that the property was "for many years known as Frederick Miller's peach and fruit farm." Family tradition as well as architectural details say Miller's house was built around 1890, just after he had purchased his land.
The original section of this three-bay house had four rooms on both the first and second floors. Foundations are stone. A sturdy stone retaining wall runs along the road, leveling the yard behind it. Steps lead through the wall to a walk. Windows have two-over-two sashes, and bricks are laid in a five-to-one bond pattern, typical of the time.
A basement holds a large service fireplace, the only working fireplace in the house, and a plank door with the faintly painted inscription, "Marie Laura 1887."
The main door of the house opens in the middle bay of the front facade. When the house was first built, this door opened off the porch to face a central staircase. This staircase had a wall on its right side and a handrail ending in a volute on the left. Tapered round balusters supported the rail. The stairs were open to the room on the left, probably the living room.
Behind it lay the kitchen with a chimney and a mantel on the wall between the rooms, but with no fireplace.
Lancelot Jr. and his wife were to have 11 children, and the Jacques were the ones who added on to the house. An ell was built at the back of the original block, a brick addition one room deep.
The kitchen moved into this addition, leaving its original space to serve as a dining room. Another addition followed, frame this time, and again the kitchen migrated, now to the west side of the house.
The second floor was divided into eight bedrooms instead of four. A large double porch on the back completed the house. The upper level of this porch had windows on the south and on both ends. It was divided into two sections. Boys slept on one side while girls slept on the other in the summer time.
In 1915, Lancelot Jr. paid $750 for 13 acres and 14 square perches of adjoining land, giving him a farmstead of about 60 acres. Here he and Margaret farmed and raised their children.
In 1977, Margaret Jacques, now a widow, conveyed the property to her 29 grandchildren.
She reserved a life estate for herself and for her unmarried daughter, Nancy Catherine, who lived with her. Margaret died Dec. 3, 1984, and Nancy survived her by almost 25 years. At her death, 28 grandchildren still lived to inherit the property.
An auction was held Oct. 3, 2009, offering the house with its tenant house, a barn with several horse stables beside it, a garage, smokehouse and summer kitchen, all little altered since they had been built about a hundred years before.
Hugh and Rayetta Schindel attended the auction. Rayetta wanted a house in the country, a farmhouse like her grandmother's, with a porch for a swing and crannies for grandchildren to play in. They won the bid.
They hired architect George Harne and designer Doris Deibert to work with builder B.J.Fisher to help them turn the house into their dream, a job they all saw as challenging.
Deteriorated windows were replaced with new two-over-two sashes like those that had always been there. The roof was replaced with green standing-seam metal.
The smokehouse was moved back and the ground reshaped around the house, creating outdoor living spaces edged with dry-stacked stone walls.
The original stepping stone of the house was incorporated into the walk, and the huge stone that lay outside the tenant house now lies before the back door.
Electric conduits went underground. All the windows were wired with low voltage candles.
Original random pine floors were refinished. A number of doorways were closed to make movement through the house easier, but the original four-panel interior doors were refinished and reused.
The front door was replaced with a new door and sidelights. This unit was moved to the outside of the exterior wall to allow more floor space at the bottom of the staircase. The glass in these windows is etched with images of goats to honor the long-ago animals that inspired the property's name.
The wall on the west side of the stairs was removed.
New balustrades, matching the original one, were made for each side of the stairway. The original was replaced because the carpenter was sure that the new would not exactly match the old, and he wanted the two to be identical.
Eight bedrooms shrank to four. The master bedroom took the space on the southeast corner and enclosed the upper porch as a sitting room with a view of the mountain and the wildlife that comes across their fields. A simple, old kitchen cupboard with two-pane glass doors and sidewalls hangs, filled with old toys.
The simply molded woodwork with mitered corners has been restored. The mantel in the original kitchen still hangs on the wall without a fireplace, and the original bead board wainscot is still there.
This area is now the dining room furnished with a harvest table and sideboard. Small details took enormous amounts of time. The right plumbing fixtures took hours.
Finding simple white thumb pulls for the windows was difficult as was finding old-style pulls for cabinets and drawers.
Five layers of linoleum were removed from the kitchen floor and replaced with a new oak floor.
Simple cabinets with counters line the walls, and the cabinet top extends across to meet the window on the west side. It is a spacious inviting room.
The ground level porch was enclosed as a family room and an additional ten-foot wide porch added with a terrace beyond. This was floored with stamped slabs of concrete that look like stone.
The house is furnished with county antiques and lovely original paintings.
A Wilson kitchen cabinet, complete with its flour bin and sifter, stands in the family room behind the kitchen. An oak settee from the family home in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., resides in the upstairs hall, and an empire chest of drawers, said to have been made of wood from the gallows that hanged John Brown, stands nearby. This piece has unusual ivory escutcheons inset into the drawers.
With much work and careful planning, the Schindels have kept the integrity of the old farmstead while making it a comfortable, serene place to live.
There is still much to do. The garage will come down. The summer kitchen and tenant house need to be restored, but the horse stables are gone and their foundations now enclose vegetable gardens, bountiful from the rich soil. Wildlife can be watched from the porches out back, on the mountain.
Life on Goat Hill is serene.
Terms to know
- Bay: a space along the façade of a building defined by an opening, a window or a door.
- Facade: any of the exterior faces of a building.
- Volute: a spiraling, scroll-like ornament sometimes used to finish a handrail.
- Escutcheon: a decorative element surrounding a keyhole, doorknob, pipe or such.