Prepared by: Paula S. Reed, PhD
PAULA S. REED AND ASSOCIATES, INC.
ONE WEST FRANKLIN STREET, SUITE 300 • HAGERSTOWN, MD 21740
301-739-2070 • FAX 301-739-4596
301-739-2070 • FAX 301-739-4596
July 21, 2010
The Smith House Property, Mercersburg, PA
This summary report is based on field observations made at two site visits to the William Smith Property in Mercersburg, PA. Extensive research material exists on historical events associated with the property.
The house is a two story, four bay dwelling sitting on a stone foundation with a full basement. It faces south and is not oriented to the plan and layout of the Borough of Mercersburg, which was developed in 1786. Consisting of two stories, the house was constructed in sections with a first story of stone construction topped with a brick second story added in the late 19th or very early 20th century. With the brick addition came a two story north side porch. Later still is a wraparound one story porch along the south and east elevations, dating from the early 20th century. There is an exterior stone chimney at the west gable end which was extended with brick to accommodate the added second story. Attached to the west gable end is a one story kitchen addition dating from the early 19th century. It too has an exterior stone chimney. Window and door framing in the north and south elevations consists of wide mortised and tenoned pieces with pegged joints and ovolo trim.
A notable feature is a stone at the southeast corner of the building with the initials “WS”. These initials cut with 18th century style lettering. The orientation of the house away from the town plan suggests that its siting predates the town’s plan.
The house retains a remarkable amount of original material including its kitchen fireplace, mantelpiece with heavy ogee molding (found in the basement), wide tongue and groove floors, window and door trim with ovolo molding and some plaster. The original front door with six raised panels beneath a four light transom remains in place. One 18th century raised four panel door was reused at a second floor closet. An arched cellar way in the north wall is another noteworthy early feature. Ovolo moldings and trims around the windows and doors at the exterior and interior are typical of the period. The first floor door and windows in the east end wall are much later than the other first floor openings and appear to date from the mid 19th century, suggesting that these openings were added at a later date to provide partial orientation toward Mercersburg’s main street.
The floor plan of the stone section follows the hall and parlor plan with a small back room which appears to have held the original stair to the upper attic or half story which was removed when the brick addition was constructed. There is a patch in the floor at the upper level at the top of the current ca. 1900 stairway that could indicate the location of the original stair area. Further exploration could confirm the location of the original stair. There appears to have been no access from the interior of the house to the cellar, before the current cellar stair was installed in the ca. 1900 period. In areas where the floor joist system for the second floor was exposed, the joists and underside of the flooring are whitewashed, indicating that the joists and underside of the original attic flooring (now the second floor) were exposed at one time. Joists observed are hand hewn.
The cellar has some very interesting features and materials. The cellar structure consists of a hewn joist system with joists resting on top of a very large summer beam that runs end to end. All of these pieces are whitewashed, and many joists have patterns of wrought nails at intervals along their edges. The joists are fairly close together, but irregularly spaced. A stone wall separates two cellar rooms, aligning with the partition above. A board and batten door between two rooms has a remnant of a wooden box lock, and a frame made from beaded jambs that once held pegs or spindles of some type, a reuse of material, possibly a peg rail or bed rail. Most floor boards observed from the cellar are reciprocally sawn, although there may be a few that show signs of pit sawing, very unusual in this region where saw mills developed very early (by the 1730s).
The floor plan is similar to “Ulster Houses” built by Scotch Irish settlers. These usually are one room deep with hall and parlor and opposed front and back doors. Additions generally are onto the gable ends. The exterior stone chimney is another important feature and unusual in south central Pennsylvania.
The property is the site of significant events and activities during the 18th century and the site has associations with those events and with Justice William Smith. Moreover, the house is the only known dwelling associated with Robert Smith who was also a distinguished and significant early resident of Mercersburg.