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William Hagerman Farmstead remained in same family for more than 140 years

February 22, 2013|By PAT SCHOOLEY | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • William Hagerman Farmstead remained in same family for more than 140 years
Colleen McGrath / Colleen McGrath


Dam Number Four Road drops south from Downsville Pike toward the Potomac River and the C&O Canal. On its west side, a sign indicates Cheney's Neck. This private road leads a quarter-mile back ending in a circular drive before an elegant brick house.

The lawn is gently rolling; the structures tidy and well kept. To the left, a triangular stone wall with an open door rises gently from the earth. A similar wall stands parallel to this 130 feet or so to its west. This is all that remains of a bank barn: the bank itself, and the brick-lined, barrel-arched root cellar within it.

This handsome house has five bays and stands two-and-a-half stories high. An elaborate central porch shelters the formal entrance. This porch has a central round arch and collared columns supporting its roof. These columns have brackets that rise to form pointed arches on either side of the central arch. Scroll-cut splats form its rails. The heavily molded front door has four octagonal panels which are repeated beneath the octagonal sidelights that flank the door.

The front façade of the house has segmentally arched brick lintels above six-over-six window sashes that curve to match the arches above, while the other façades have similar windows with flat brick lintels. Bricks are laid in common bond with seven rows of stretchers between each row of headers.

The basement of the house stands a few feet above grade and opens at ground level on the east. Triple porches cover this gable end of the house, with scroll cut splats forming the rails of the upper two porches. The north foundation wall extends the width of these porches to form the north wall of the lower porch.

East of the house stands a brick out-kitchen, laid in common bond, three rows of stretchers to each row of header bricks. It has a large brick fireplace with a cellar below, loft above and a simple porch at the back. A 52-foot deep hand-dug, brick-lined well stands under the overhanging front roof. It still holds water. It is a simple building, unpainted, graceful in its simple design.

The foundation

The William Hagerman Farmstead was once part of the 1,700-acre Woburn Tract that Judge Thomas Buchanan patented in 1819. Upon Buchanan's death in 1847, it passed to his five children. The land was subdivided; and, 10 years later, Tract No. 3, then 216 acres, was sold to Dr. Grafton Clagett for $8,662. This price indicates there were probably improvements on the land. Two years later, William Hagerman bought the farm from Dr. Clagett for $11,360, suggesting more improvements.

The 1860 census describes William Hagerman as a 38-year-old farmer with real estate valued at $12,000. He had six children, no servants nor slaves. The 1860 agricultural census shows him as having seven milch cows, six horses, four other cattle and 50 swine, as well as 700 bushels of grain, 25 bushels of potatoes, 400 pounds of butter, 15 tons of hay and 15 bushels of clover seed, all valued at $12,000. His outbuildings indicate he was probably a general grain farmer with a substantial fruit or vegetable crop that would have been stored in the root cellar at the barn.

The agricultural census of 1870 lists Hagerman as having 13 horses, 10 milch cows, 12 other cattle, 26 sheep and 20 swine, and more than 1,300 bushels of grain, 35 pounds of wool, 200 pounds of butter, 25 pounds of honey and orchard products valued at $2,000 for a total of $14,100. It also notes $800 paid for farm labor, indicating he had hired help that probably lived in the brick out-kitchen.

Hagerman died in 1887 leaving two farms in his estate. The home farm, where he remained until his death, was eventually purchased by his daughter, Ann Amelia, and her husband, Lewis Downey, for $10,806. It changed hands in 1916 and 1940, but remained in the Hagerman/Downey family for 142 years.

A new beginning

Todd Bowman purchased the farmstead with 378 acres in 2002. Because of changing farm practices, the buildings had been neglected for decades. The brick bank barn had burned in 1969, and the ancillary buildings had deteriorated or been reduced to heaps of debris. Having restored three other historic homes in the county, Todd Bowman and his wife were not daunted. The house had good bones, and original elements had not been removed by former owners nor scavenged.

The roof of the house, once slate, has been replaced by green standing seam metal. Porches were rebuilt with new floors and ceilings. Rotted splats were duplicated and replaced. The road, which once ran close to the front of the house, was pulled south to open the view. The remains of the barn were removed, leaving only its bank and its enclosed root cellar.

The house sits on a small rise facing south. Behind it another stone, barrel-arched, brick-lined root cellar is buried in the ground. It has three rectangular walls with a flat, grass-covered roof and a door entering its north face; its south end terminates in bedrock,

Nearby stand a smokehouse and a small washhouse with a large stone service fireplace furnished with two cranes, Both are built of unpainted wood, now weathered dark, and have been repaired and stabilized. The smokehouse now houses a wood furnace which heats the house.  Todd said they will use it as long as he enjoys cutting wood, a pickup load a week, to keep it running.

The footprint of the house is 30 feet by 50 feet, and the common entrance is on the east side, across from the out-kitchen at ground level. The door opens into the kitchen from the lowest of the three porches. The room, about 17 feet deep and 30 feet wide, has always been the kitchen. Low-ceilinged, ample, it is an inviting space with a fireplace and an original built-in cupboard that has four four-panel doors separated by two deep drawers, all covered in creamy enamel paint. The perimeter walls are covered with counters and tables. The exposed walls above are sometimes plaster, sometimes foundation brick, the better to ventilate the masonry.

Beyond the kitchen is a bath, the only one in the house when the Bowmans arrived. Behind the kitchen and bath are a large pantry, family room and utility room with the oil furnace that activates automatically when the wood furnace is not serving.

Steps lead from the kitchen to the first floor, entering the northeast room of the first level, a den, rather than rising under the main staircase in the front hall. Double parlors, each with three windows, fill the west half of this floor. The north parlor is smaller with simpler woodwork. Two large, paneled, double doors separate the parlors. The wooden mantelpiece in the front parlor is Italianate, with an arched firebox and sinuous curves that imitate marble. The house has broad, molded baseboards throughout.

The dining room fills the southeast corner of the house. It has the same elegant woodwork as the front parlor with pediment shaped woodwork above the doors and windows and paneled window architraves, but no fireplace. All the rooms are furnished with lovely period antiques.

In the center hall, the main staircase rises comfortably to a landing. Here a window overlooks the back yard. The walnut balustrade has turned and faceted balusters beneath a broad handrail. Four bedrooms occupy this floor. The northwest bedroom has faux-tiger-maple graining on its doors while the south rooms have faux- mahogany graining. The back staircase continues into the northeast bedroom, which was probably a servant's room originally. Fireplaces serve the two rooms on the west.

The main stairs continue to the attic level. At the landing, the steps become about five feet wide. This space has been finished into offices with computers and electronics to serve the needs of the family.

The Bowmans have restored what was once the hub of an active working farmstead, saving its unique elements while making it work in the 21st century. But, of course, nothing is easy. New wooden porch floors and ceilings rotted and had to be replaced, this time with composite boards that look like wood when painted but don't deteriorate. Splats, too, have needed extra care as new fast-growth wood simply does not last like old growth timber.

The Bowmans treasure the unique features of their home, the quiet, the wildlife, being a part of our county history. They have been sensitive to the unusual elements of their property and have preserved them by making them assets in a modern world.



Terms to know

Lintel: a horizontal structural member that supports the load over an opening such as a door or window.

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

Architrave: ornamental moldings that surround a rectangular opening.

Splat: a thin, wide piece of wood used to connect two horizontal members. Often decorated with scroll cuts.

Header brick: the smallest face of a brick.

Stretcher brick: the longer side of a brick.

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