Twin Springs Farm: Icon of the past gets update

December 13, 2012|By PAT SCHOOLEY | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • A large stone house stands in front of a massive stone barn at Twin Springs Farm near the intersection of Twin Springs Drive and Little Antietam Road in Chewsville.
Photo by Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

CHEWSVILLE — This is the 196th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

At the western edge of Chewsville stands a massive stone barn on a small rise close to the intersection of Twin Springs Drive and Little Antietam Road.

The land falls away behind this barn as two streams meander to form a single run beyond it. The date stone in the barn's east gable is no longer legible but is said to have been inscribed with the date 1786 and the initials J.R. or I.O. R. The barn, 100 feet by 40 feet, is built of roughly coursed rubble stone with narrow air vents in the upper level and post and beam construction visible inside. Eight doors and three windows open into the forebay on the south, and an original hayrack stands ready to serve inside.

Twin Springs Drive

The farm comprises more than 70 acres, spread along Trovinger Mill Road, but the farmstead structures are tucked onto this concave triangle of land bounded by the two roads and a curve of railroad track elevated along Jefferson Boulevard to the south. Settled below grade, this parcel is private, serene. A large stone house stands below and at right angles to the barn to the east. Just behind this house is another, smaller, earlier stone house and a new swimming pool. Beside this pool stands the original smokehouse, now converted to a pool shed. A garage just off Twin Springs Road and a machine shed complete the complex.

The smaller stone house probably dates from the late 18th century like the barn. It's a simple structure built of rubble fieldstone with little ornamentation. Its west façade has a porch the width of the building sheltered by a section of the overhanging main roof that is set at a shallower pitch. A single room, about 32 feet by 12 feet, fills the interior. Two doors enter its west wall, indicating this space was once divided. These doors are made of vertical wooden boards, each with a small square, four-light window in its upper half. Between these doors is a single window with six-over-six sashes. 

 At the north gable end of this room is a large brick fireplace with a massive interior chimney. The firebox is divided into two spaces by a brick wall. An opening on the east side of this firebox probably accessed a beehive oven at one time, but no trace of this oven remains. A single door is the only opening on the east side of the building. The room has simple, narrow-board wainscot on all walls and a bead board ceiling.

A large, two-story addition has been attached to the east wall of the old house, and the roof, now metal, undulates to its peak with four different pitches. With no interior walls or finishes, this addition appears to have been built as a farm building and a work area. Early in the 20th century, it was used as a dairy.

The larger house has two-and-a-half stories and faces west with a porch that wraps around the full width of both the west and north facades. A datestone placed high in the north gable states, "Rebuilt by John Spessard, 1862."  Church records and family lore credit Spessard with adding the second floor to the house during this rebuilding.

This house stands over a spring which still flows. A second spring rises just to the east of the house and enters the basement level of the structure through a small arch in the foundation wall. Inside, this spring joins the first. Together they exit through the south side of the basement level where they join another stream and meander west.

Spessert, Spessard, Spessart and the like

Hans Peter Spessert immigrated to Philadelphia from the Netherlands with his wife and infant son, Michael, taking the oath of allegiance in 1751. Four years later, Spessert died in Lancaster County, Pa.

In 1784 Michael Spessard made his first purchase of land in Washington County and settled in the Rohrersville area, moving to Chewsville just a few years before he died in 1825. According to Howard Spessard's book on his family, this Chewsville property became known as the "Old Spessard Homestead," and it was to remain in the family about a century.

Deed books indicate that Peter Spessart (the name's spelling changed frequently, sometimes as often as four times in a single document) purchased 150.25 acres from the estate of Jacob Rohrer in 1818, parts of patents named George's Mistake," "George's Venture" and "Barrens." The "J.R.," once seen on the gable of the barn, might have referred to Jacob Rohrer, and his huge barn and small house may have been the beginnings of the Spessard Homestead. It isn't known when the larger house was constructed, or when and why the addition was made to the original house.

When John Spessard added the second floor in 1862, he shortened the windows on the south side of the house, filling in the arched lintels, now a foot above the new openings, with new stonework. He also altered the basement arch that allowed the spring to exit. This arch had been very large, about 15 feet wide, and quite open. The cellar ceiling/first floor was raised, making the basement level more useable, and the exit arch was filled in to lessen heat loss and air movement, leaving only a small opening for the water to leave through. When he finished, he stuccoed or roughcast the house. In the mid 19th century, roughcast was often used to present a more elegant appearance. Since stone was readily available in this county, it was considered a common and thus inexpensive material, while cut stone was more valued. In this case, roughcast was also used to cover the structural changes. 

John Spessard farmed successfully and also ran a distillery, converting grains into whiskey, which he sold in Baltimore. This was a common way for local farmers to convert their produce into a more transportable product and many farms had distilleries.

In 1885, David K. Spessard sold the homestead, now 120 acres and 30 square perches, to John Shilling for $9,044. Shilling was the great-great-grandfather of the present owner, Barry Sprecher, who purchased the farm from his mother five years ago.

Over the years, generations of the Shilling family added windows, rearranged rooms, moved staircases, added porches and generally loved the old buildings, while making them fit present needs. Barry and his wife, Penny, put in the pool, and they have recently had the roughcast removed because it was deteriorating, thus revealing all the changes that had been made more than a century before by John Spessard. It all proves that old houses can be stretched and fitted to modern needs and still stand as beacons from the past, icons from an earlier age. 

Terms to know

  • Chewsville: this community grew up around The Hive, the home of William Fitzhugh. Fitzhugh was known to be friends of Samuel Chew, who lived in southern Washington County on an early land patent, Chews Farm. Some historians have supposed that Fitzhugh named the community after this friend. However, Michael Spessard's will describes his land as "…lying north by William Fitchew," indicating the way Fitzhugh was then pronounced and suggesting that "Chewsville" is an abbreviation of "Fitchewsville."
  • Rough cast: an early term for stucco.
  • Lintel: a horizontal structural member that supports the load over an opening such as a window or a door. This beam spans the opening and rests on the wall on either side.
  • Four-light: having four panes of glass.
  • Six-over-six: having six panes of glass in each sash of a window.

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