Summer House Farm earns name

July 21, 2013|By PAT SCHOOLEY | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • A brightly colored door opens the way to a small kitchen.
Kevin G. Gilbert / Staff Photographer

This is the 199th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

 Chestnut Grove Road runs roughly north from Harpers Ferry Road, curling around Elk Ridge on the east. Well up the road on the left, signs announce two addresses at one entrance. Two drives branch almost immediately from this entrance. The right one leads to a farmstead on low ground not far from the road. The left one soon diminishes to a trail that winds slowly up through woodlands for more than a mile. At last a broad, grassy clearing appears on the top of the small mountain. In it, a small two-and-a-half story three-bay house faces east toward the lane, utterly isolated.

Chimneys rise at the gable ends of the house, and a narrow double porch supported by slender square posts covers its front façade. Attached to its right stands a one-story addition with a massive stone chimney curving up its end wall. This addition projects from the main block, with a door opening into its single room from the porch. An interior door also accesses this area from inside the house. A bulkhead in the floor of the front porch opens into a low basement, now occupied by necessary plumbing and two bicycles.


This has always been a summerhouse. The name appears in the deed. The land was part of that vast tract in South Washington County that the Indian Chiefs of the Five Nations deeded in 1727 to Israel Friend, a Quaker. Later governments, ignoring their Indian predecessors, made other dispositions. David Ross, Richard Henderson, Samuel Beall Jr. and Joseph Chapline established an iron furnace on this site in the mid-18th century. After passing through other owners, Col. John McPherson and his son-in-law, John Brien, an ironmaster from Pennsylvania, received a patent from the state of Maryland for 9,548 3/5 acres designated Antietam Ironworks on May 14, 1810. Brien became the onsite manager of the ironworks. 

The struggles of the Summer House

When McPherson and Brien acquired the site in 1808, they petitioned to patent it in order to consolidate holdings and to acquire land between established claims. Surveying was more art than science at that time, and there were often vacancies between claims, which might be acquired if the land were resurveyed. 

There were also faults or overlaps of claims that had to be resolved before patents were issued. 

When McPherson died in 1829, Brien and his son, John McPherson Brien, assumed management of the ironworks. Brien senior died just five years later, and his son struggled with the debts left behind until his own death in 1849. Four years later, Mrs. Brien attempted to satisfy these debts by dividing the property and selling small parcels. By 1853, she sold the entire ironworks. Jonathan Meredith and John Nicholson Spears were appointed trustees to sell its assets. An advertisement placed in the Baltimore Sun on Oct. 19, 1863, by these trustees offered parcels of the Ironworks, and parcel No. 50 was described as “A tract of land, designated on the plat as ‘The Summer House Farm’…containing about 618 acres and improved by a dwelling house and other buildings…”

Lewis and Elizabeth Watson and Augustin and Elizabeth Biggs purchased this parcel and another in 1860. The 1860 census shows Watson as a well-to-do miller living in Boonsboro. Biggs was a prominent physician living in Sharpsburg who, a few years later, would treat wounded soldiers following the Battle of Antietam. Augustin Biggs died, and this parcel passed to Stella McKeen Biggs in 1885. She sold it four years later to her brother, Charles G.Biggs, the first president of the Maryland State Horticultural Society, and Hamilton B. Showman. They, in turn, sold the property to E. Frank Bussard in 1908 for $2,500. Three years later, Bussard sold it for $2,000 to Lancelot Jacques, an orchardist from Smithsburg, who established Lookout Mountain Orchard there.

Bonnard Morgan, a neighbor and once owner of the property, said Jacques clear-cut the trees from the property, terraced the mountain and planted his orchard. He said the orchard aged out about 1946, and the land became overgrown with Virginia Pine during the next 50 years. In the early 1960s only a single apple tree remained. A forester recommended cutting the pines, which was done about 1996 and, after they were gone, tulip poplars grew in their place. 

Fred Glaise purchased the property in 1929 and held it for 20 years. It then passed through several short-term owners until purchased by Calvin and Olive Cobb in 1968 for $5,300. 

The house today

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