Archive for the ‘Baughman's Mansion’ Category

Poplar Terrace Update

April 14, 2011

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:


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.

Baughman’s Mansion

June 24, 2009

I’m currently working on an essay that’s a kind of meditation on landscape, memory, and place or home. The focus of this essay is the experience I have of visiting my hometown of Frederick Maryland, where I haven’t lived for over 20 years. I get back fairly frequently, though, and each visit the town has changed yet also seems exactly the same. I have this image of the present as something that’s transposed on top of the past, layers and layers, and occasionally the past shines through, like a pothole in an old road that reveals the cobblestone still beneath it.

A major aspect of this essay involves my memories of an old mansion that was just at the edges of the neighborhood where I lived. By the time I was growing up in the 70’s, the building had been long abandoned and was beginning to fall in on itself. But I spent quite a few years adventuring through the old building, finding hidden treasures (yes, I know that I was trespassing and I and all the other neighborhood kids who saw it as a birthright to explore Baughman’s mansion were a perennial pain for the owners. If memory serves me right, I believe my older brother was once brought home by the local sheriff after having been found there, but we never really talked about it so I’m not sure if my memory’s right or not).

As I’ve been writing about my recollections, I’ve been sort of haunted by the place and tried to track down pictures of the building (I had once found some old black and white photos of the building in its prime in a box of old trinkets that had been left behind, but I lost them somewhere along the way). The trick was really uncovering that the place was not Baughman’s mansion as I knew it but Poplar Terrace. Anything I could learn about it was still fairly sketchy, but I was able to uncover some of its history and to find a few photos (with thanks to CC Hall, whose website these are from).  Here is an old postcard of the building:

poplar terrace postcard

And here is a photo from a different angle of the building in its prime:

poplar terrace 1

And, finally, here is a photo of the building in the era in which I explored it:

poplar terrace 2

There were plenty of old stories that older kids in the neighborhood had handed down. There was an electric chair, there was a slave hanging in the old tenant’s house, there was a coffin, there was blood on the stairway, etc.  Turned out the blood was a spilled paint can, the coffin was a huge chest, the slave was an ancient ham hanging from a meathook, the electric chair as near as I could tell was an old dentist’s chair. The place had been scavenged by the time I got there, but what always truck me was how much stuff had just been left there. I always had the feeling that people had just up and left the building.

Now, it doesn’t have anything to do really with the essay I’m writing, but this aspect of the building has become more curious to me. Frederick is a town that lives its history. Anything preservable is absolutely preserved; family histories are carefully recorded; historical sites are marked and documented to the nth degree. Why, I’ve begun to wonder, was this glorious building just left to ruin? I have learned that the Baughman family had a substantial influence in Frederick yet it’s fairly hard to track down. They were also connected with the Conley family who had several grandiose homes in the area which are now fully preserved and maintained on the register of historic places. So yet again I wonder what happened here? The history of this little corner of our town seemed like a vacuum when I was growing up and it seems even more so to me now that I can see some of the context. I tried to track down a bit of history through a local listserve and I got some very sketchy history and some completely incorrect info. For instance, several people told me it burned down in the 60s, but I clearly know that wasn’t the case–I was in my adventure years in the 70s and I know that it was standing when I first moved away in ’81 (I moved back for awhile, then moved away for good in ’87). It seems like an easy mistake of years except for two people to tell me this (one of them CC Hall whose pictures I have here) seems kind of odd. I also wonder if the 60s fire people are referring to is the burning of an old barn on the connected land–a fire I can remember from when I was 6 or 7, but definitely not the mansion. Now, I’m not trying to make some conspiracy here, just thinking. The building is important to the essay I’m writing as it seems a kind of metaphor for memory and history that I’m working with. But I find that I’m just curious now about the actual history of the place.  I know I have some readers from Maryland here, so if there are any of you who know anything or who had any exeriences with the building as me and my neighbors did, feel free to post a reply or you can drop me a line here.  I’d love to hear from you.