Secrets of the oldest house in Frederick County revealed in new documentary | Arts & entertainment

For over 130 years, the Beatty-Cramer farmhouse located on Liberty Road near the Ceresville Mansion kept an important architectural secret that would eventually add a new chapter to the history of early European settlement in Frederick County.

“It was a chance to tell that story and to produce something that would give back to the community of Frederick for providing funding for us,” said Joan Deacon, current board member and former president of FCLF. “It was a chance to introduce that house and to tell stories of that house to people who will never have a chance to go through the door.”

Joe Lubozynski, a local architecture enthusiast who manages the property for FCLF, said the story that most residents know about the founding of Frederick revolves around British landholders (especially the Delaney family) working with their German tenants to plan and build out the community starting in the 1740s. As a result, the distinct architectural styles of both cultures can be seen today in the old town homes, churches, farmhouses and barns of the area. Many structures blend the two styles together.

The history recorded in that architecture is true, but it’s not the whole truth. In 1987, a twinge of curiosity led Lubozynski to discover an untold parallel story and historical mystery.

One day when driving down Liberty Road, he noticed that the apparently generic 19th-century farmhouse that he passed on a regular basis was recently unoccupied. He had long wondered why the property’s springhouse appeared to be older than the main house, and not seeing the usual signs of inhabitants, he gave in to a compulsion to peek through the farmhouse windows. To his surprise, he could see an ornate door hinge unlike anything he had encountered in his years of examining historic homes in the county.

“I just had a suspicion that the house could be older than it looked from the outside,” he said. “Sure enough, that’s the case.”

He quickly secured permission from the property owner to enter the house but was informed it was scheduled to be burned down soon as part of a training exercise by the local fire department, so he had to hurry.

Once inside the house, Lubozynski could see the exterior walls were a 19th-century shell encasing an 18th-century structure. Scientific analysis of the timbers would later reveal a construction timeframe of 1748 to 1752, and uncovered property documents would later suggest the exterior walls were added in the 1850s.

But the fact that the house was a century older than it appeared was not its most interesting secret, even though it is now recognized as the oldest remaining house in the county.

After bringing in some friends to help him take down the interior 19th-century plaster, Lubozynski recognized specific architectural features found only in houses within the Netherlandic building tradition. In addition to the British and German architecture, Frederick County now had evidence of a distinct Dutch influence. It would prove to be the only known example in the state of Maryland.

Lubozynski said certain features of the construction were common in houses built in the Netherlands and in Dutch settlements in New Jersey and New York, especially in the Hudson Valley. The first feature he noticed in the Beatty-Cramer house was Dutch Biscuit, a method of using lath (thin strips of wood) and clay to fills gaps in a wall. Further work to uncover the original appearance of the house revealed that it once had an “opkamer,” a living area on the ground floor raised about three feet higher than the kitchen side of the house.

The most distinctly Dutch characteristic of the house, Lubozynski said, is the H-bent framing, which gives form to the house using large timber posts fitted together in the shape of the capitol letter H.

When Lubozynski realized the significance of the house, he informed the FCLF who quickly asked the property owner to cancel the planned burning of the home and to begin negotiating to purchase it. To the board’s surprise, the owner offered to donate the house to FCLF, but that turned out to be a not-so-simple task.

The owner wished to legally separate the small plot containing the house and outbuildings from the rest of the property, which was still being commercially farmed. The process was complex, and FCLF couldn’t secure full control of the house until 1996.

Lubozynski and other FCLF members were excited to begin researching the Dutch origins of a farmhouse built in British territory, but the unstable condition of the house, the complexity of securing grant funding, and regular turnover of FCLF’s volunteer leadership meant that uncovering the full story would take decades. Despite those years of research bearing much fruit, many core mysteries remain, including the identities of the architect and builders of the house.

All of the key facts that have been learned about the house, including information about its original English owners, have been laid out in the new video documentary, which is written, directed and narrated by Reiner Prochaska, a lecturer at Towson University who has several Hollywood acting credits.

In addition to views of the house that are inaccessible to the public due to safety concerns, the video features beautiful shots of Dutch architecture in the Hudson Valley and historic reenactors who portray life in 18th-century Frederick County. One of the film’s actors is Anita Beatty-Hoffman, a descendant of the family who first owned the home. She portrays Susannah Beatty, the first recorded woman landowner in Frederick County.

Deacon said the video is “a way to peek into the window or open the door and look inside and learn a little bit about the house. It’s to make it accessible to the general community, so that people know what that place is sitting up on the hill.”