Poplar Terrace Update

Another of my current writing projects is trying to wrap up an essay I’ve been working on about Frederick, particularly Baughman Mansion/Poplar Terrace, the run-down, abandoned mansion in the neighborhood where I grew up. I’ve been spending too much time on the Maryland Archives website–apparently I’m a historian in disguise and didn’t really know it. Fascinating archives: one of the great discoveries is to learn that every parcel of land had to have a name when it was first surveyed and deeded: the names themselves have this whole buried history to them. Here’s just a sample of names for land tracts in Frederick: “I have lost the most,” “I am lost,” “Hug Me Snug,” “I believe it will do,” “Bite him softly,” “Catch it if you can,” “Bone of contention,” “Poverty in Reality,” and one of my favorites: “I don’t care what.” (It makes me think of how Frank Zappa’s daughter Moon Unit got her name–appocryphal or not, I’m not sure: “Mr Zappa you have to give her a name now.” “OK, Moon Unit #4 it is”).  But since I’ve written about my quest before, I thought I’d outline what I’ve learned about the property for all you Fredericktonians out there (and granted, if you’re not a Fredericktonian it might not hold much of interest).

As all of Frederick was originally, it was first part of Benjamin Tasker’s 7,000 acre tract, “Tasker’s Chance” surveyed by Tasker in 1725 and then given to Tasker by Lord Baltimore in 1727.

Most of Tasker’s Chance was sold to Daniel Dulaney in 1744.

Dulaney then sold or leased plots in what became Frederick. Dulaney kept a 1,000 parcel for his own home, a tract he called “Red Hill.”

This is all general history of the area. Tracing it from here is where it gets tricky since as parcels got divided, the deeds have very scant, vague maps. For instance, a deed map might refer to a large rock by the large oak tree in the meadow as the starting point. But this is the best I’ve figured out about Red Hill. Where the current mansion “Prospect Hall” stands at the corner of Butterfly Lane and route 180 was the southeast corner of the tract. The eastern line then traveled north paralleling what is now route 15 (crossing current route 40) and the best I can surmise is the property line would then have been what is currently Baughman’s Lane. Baughman’s Lane and Shookstown (the corner where Baughman’s mansion would eventually stand) was the northeast corner of the tract. It’s a little difficult then to figure out how far west the tract went but if it were originally 1,000 acres, I come up with it going between 1/2 and 1 mile west (if the tract was 1000 acres, that’s 1.5 square miles. From Prospect Hall to Shookstown is about 2 miles, so we’d be left with roughly 3/4 mile but none of these measurements are exact, so…) So the best guess I have is that the property line would have been roughly where Willowdale Lane ended up, following that line south back across route 40 and up to Butterfly Lane.

In 1766, the British confiscated Red Hill (although I’ve read some interesting competing narratives about this event–I’ll save these for another day). The property was later sold by the confiscation commissioner to one of Thomas Johnson’s (first Governor of Maryland) brothers. Johnson sold it to Colonel John McPherson (1760-1829) and officer in the Revolution. It’s a little unclear in the history, but most think that McPherson built the actual “Prospect Hall” mansion (which later became St. John’s Catholic High School):

John’s heirs then sold the property to Edward trail. From here, I made use of this wonderful map from 1865. (for any of you from Frederick, this is a really fascinating map, to see all the names still prominent not only in the current phonebook, but in the names of the town, its roads, parks, streams, etc.) At this point, you can see what is Shookstown Road, Rosemount, and the far end of what would become Baughman’s Lane (the section between Shookstown and Rosemount). The name Trail is right in the corner where the mansion would later stand (although there is no lane on this side of Shookstown yet). One other confusing factor in the history is the plot of land that Dulaney sold to the Bruner’s, the family that built the well-known “Schifferstadt” house, still standing and now a museum. It was difficult to determine whether Bruner land was actually part of the Baughman tract or not, and you can see Bruner listed right in the same vicinity. My confusion was over the road that looks like what would be Baughman’s lane with Bruner listed on the west side. But that road can’t be where Baughman’s Lane ended up if you see the road the comes into Shookstown and later connects to Baughman’s Lane (if you compare this map to current google maps of Frederick, most of these roads are still exactly the same, so I feel confident in reaching some of these conclusions). What this cleared up for me, though, was the question of the land our house was on: I’d say we were clearly on original Schifferstadt/Bruner land and not Baughman land.

After Edward Trail died, his wife Lydia Trail (Ramsburg) left the land to their son Charles Trail, a prominent Frederick figure, in 1879. Charles is known for his own mansion built in downtown Frederick, once an underground railroad house on Church Street, now a funeral home:

Trail didn’t keep the land long, selling it in 1882 to his in-law, Cyrus G. Helfenstein who built the mansion that L Victor Baughman went on to inherit (many names, but apparently things stayed in the family from McPherson on to the last resident Charles Conley). At this point, the tract is listed at about 300 acres, so it had shrunk considerably. I suspect that by the time it was in the Baughman family it went to what is Route 40 because I know that Austin Baughman, who inherited it from Victor, donated the land at the corner of Baughman’s Lane and route 40 for the old state police barracks. After Austin Baughman, the house and remaining land went to Charles Conley Jr. who moved into one of the tenant’s buildings and, as I understand it, simply let the big building go to ruin which is the condition it was in when I came into the story, or it came into my story, however you look at it. I remember finding newspaper clippings in the house from the early 30s but nothing later,  so was it the depression that led to the house’s downfall? Why did it end up so neglected with so much in it? I’ve tried to track down someone who might be able to say, but it seems like the house itself, that might now be lost to history.

I had posted some photos in an earlier commentary. More recently, I found this image in the Maryland archives:

c. Maryland archives

This one gives me a different perspective on it, seeing that it had sidewalks leading up a second road to the house (the lane between Shookstown and Baughman’s so prominent in later years would have been on the other side of the building–I do remember there being a “road” there, but it was an overgrown dirt road, nothing to say it once would have been a sidewalk-lined lane) gives it an even more prominent feeling. By the 1960’s the house was this:

c. http://www.historichampshire.org/conley/pics/photos.htm

This looks at what would be the left side of the house in the picture above, so the road would have gone up to this side. Housing developments have now encroached on this site on three sides, going right up to the rusted wire fence that used to mark the tree line for the house. The horse pasture in the picture above is still a field, but last I was in Frederick it had surveying marks in it, so before long any traces will be gone. What I’m not sure of though is if the stand of trees where the house stood will also disappear or if it will remain its own kind of marker–now almost 30 years after the house burned down, that stand of trees remains, a kind of ghost of the past, a kernel tucked into the world growing around it. The house itself is slowly crumbling back into the land. Last fall I wandered up to the spot, climbed around on the piles of brick and rock, the rock had all collapses or been pushed into the foundation making it a pretty small pile, and the foundation of the building now looked really very small, especially when the place seems so big in my memory. Funny how that happens I guess.

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3 Responses to “Poplar Terrace Update”

  1. Jonathan Sander Says:

    Greetings,

    My name is Jonathan Sander and I have lived on Baughman’s Lane my entire life. My father designed and had our house built in 1968 and I was born in 1972. My wife and I bought the house in 2004. I have always been drawn to Baughmans mansion and I am one of the neighborhood kids who was at least brave enough to explore the outside of it. I was childhood friends with Mary Clay Thomas who is a grandchild of the Conley’s. My father almost married her mother soon after my own mother passed away in 1981. I have fleeting memories of walking up the lane toward the mansion with Mary Clay and feeling overwhelmed by the houses presence. I stood on my sidewalk and watched the mansion burn down sometime in the mid eighties I think. They were the tallest flames I have ever seen in my life. The fire department made no effort to put out the flames but were there to insure that the blaze would not spread. Thank you so much for posting what you know about the mansion and also the pictures. I still look across the field and can make something out but it is ghostly.

    Jonathan

    • GJF Says:

      Jonathan,
      Thanks so much for your comments on my blog. I’m sorry I didn’t get to them until now–I’ve kind of let the blog go lately, but I’m trying to jump back into it. Catching up on many comments that had come in while I was away.
      Where on Baughman’s Lane did you live? I lived on Crestview Court which is just off Rock Creek Lane (I think that was it). I basically had a row of houses between me and Baughman’s Lane and then the Conley’s farm. We might have been neighbors? I lived there until 1981.
      Anyway, thanks again for your memories here.

      • Jonathan Sander Says:

        We live at 210 Baughmans lane, 2 houses from the corner of Shookstown and Baughmans. 1981 was a difficult year for my family as my Mother died that year leaving myself, 4 siblings and my father. If you were still in the neighborhood at the time you may have heard about it. Shortly after initially replying to your blog I took a walk on the Baughman’s ruins and there is still some pretty intense energy floating around the rubble. Have a great holiday!

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