“A Well Manored Family”

by “My Father’s Son”

COLUMN - new -Catoctin ManorMost are familiar with the historic site of Rose Hill Manor alongside Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick. This classically southern home— built over eight years, beginning in 1790, for Thomas Johnson’s daughter, Ann, after she and her husband received the land as a gift from her father on the eve of their nuptials—became popularly known as the final home of Thomas Johnson. Rose Hill is a fantastic illustration of early-American residential architecture and the Maryland-style plantation home. Thomas Johnson spent the last twenty-five years of his life, from 1794-1819, living as a guest in the mansion.

Rose Hill is not the only trace of the Johnson family in Frederick County. Thomas Johnson, and his three brothers, had a huge impact on the emancipation of colonial America from the fringes of Thurmont, where their once prominent presence can still be seen. Our northern county region, between Lewistown and Thurmont, holds three sister-houses: Rose Hill’s lost relatives, standing within 1.7 miles of each other along the shoulder of the old Route 15 pavement (present day Maryland 806).

The story of these houses begins with James Johnson. In the late 1760s, James Johnson was a learned ironmaster. So, in 1768, he, along with his brother Thomas, lobbied for a plot of land they believed ideal for iron production. Prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and just in time for the American Revolution whose demand would allow the new iron-furnace to thrive, James began construction of the Catoctin Furnace. The first of the three local Johnson homes was conceived here. Positioned to oversee the daily operations of the furnace, “Catoctin Manor” was built by James on the corner of the “main road” (MD-806) and the “hollow road” (now Catoctin Hollow Road before it’s terminus was disrupted by the Route 15 bypass). The home was a side-hall, three-bay layout, built of stone and finished in a white plaster/stucco coating on the exterior. Some historic documentation questions whether James ever lived in this home, as another was built by him in or around the year 1775.

In 1826, the furnace was out of Johnson hands and bought at a sheriff’s sale in Fredericktowne for the sum of $10,000 by a man named John Brien. Brien greatly enlarged the Ironmaster’s mansion. Two more bays were added to the left of the front façade and, eventually, a large back section, forming the footprint of the house into a large “T” shape. This home stands in ruins at the Furnace Exhibit area of Cunningham Falls State Park, its stone remains crowned with cement for preservation. The still-visible foundation displays the original parameter of the house James Johnson built, as well as the later areas of addition. The Mansion and Furnace were acquired by the State Park in the late 1930s, and the home was once even under consideration to become a “Summer White House.” As the mid-twentieth century approached, citizens began to express concern over the deteriorating Ironmaster’s Mansion since the shutdown of the Furnace only a few years after 1900, one of the home’s last long-term residents of roughly ten to twenty years being the family of acting Superintendent L.R. Waesche. Ultimately, the Park Service had no funds to allocate to the large home, but did remove the stylish boxwoods that surrounded the residence to replant them at the White House.

James Johnson spent the last portion of his life, leading up to his death in 1809 at Springfield Manor, circa 1775 as reported by the Maryland State Archives (MSA). Springfield Manor, currently refurbished into an attractive event venue, vineyard, and distillery, stands proud over the farm fields of nearby Lewistown on Auburn Road. Springfield offers Georgian architecture, built of light-colored stone, once painted white, standing two-and-a-half stories tall, with the half-story constructed of red brick around narrow windows, providing ventilation to the former servant quarters. Springfield offers a centrally located, single-story covered front porch, similar to that of the enlarged Catoctin Manor. Based off the location of a matching stone summer kitchen near the home’s northeast corner, the MSA speculates that a Palladian layout may have been James’ intent for his final mansion. George Washington’s Mount Vernon is a prime example of a Palladian plan. Had Springfield possessed another matching stone structure, mirroring its summer kitchen, and pavilions or breezeways connecting these secondary structures to the main house to comprise two symmetrical wings, Springfield would surely have been the greatest Johnson house of them all.

The final sister, Auburn, came later in 1805. Beginning in 1793, Thomas and Baker Johnson operated the Furnace in a partnership after their brother James left the company. Thomas dissolved the partnership and left Baker in charge; Baker purchased the parcel of land between the furnace complex and his brother’s Springfield property and built Auburn. Auburn is a favorite to many who live in the area and those who frequently travel Route 15 alike. Perched in the trees, mere yards away from the southbound travel lanes, Auburn most resembles its proverbial niece Rose Hill, which is actually five to seven years Auburn’s elder. It is unaware how long Baker lived in his house at Auburn, as his 1809 will stated that all of the belongings of Auburn and the land on which it sat was to go to his son Baker Jr., who was already inhabiting the house at the time of Baker’s death. In recent history, Clem Gardiner and his wife Harriet graciously took care of the large estate before their passing and deserve all credit due to them for their accomplishment; their sons reserve life-estate on the property.

All three homes are of a central hall, five-bay symmetrical main house plan, built on fieldstone foundations with oversized multi-pane sashes and accompanying louver shutters with all but Catoctin Manor having smaller, informal side service-wings, some more ornate than others. Auburn’s service wing consists of both one- and two-story sections, possibly meant to go unnoticed in the grand scheme of the home, insignificant in design to the impressive main house. At Auburn, a centrally located porch, covering the front door and two small ornamental windows, rises two stories to create a columned portico, similar to, but less elaborate than, the Doric and Ionic combination of columns and carefully carved details of the portico at Rose Hill. The resemblance between the quartet of homes is surely not identical, but their liking to one another secures them as a proper collection.

Three men, four houses, and one business venture that tied them all to this area have left us a legacy of iconic treasures to share, so close their holdings once touched, and appreciate. Their beauty, scale, and symbolic wealth deem these homes be regarded with the extravagance and historic value that they represent. It is with hope that the next time one of these locations is passed, it is not with the absentmindedness of local daily normalcy, but with a special acknowledgment to those who left them behind.

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