The Historical Society of Carroll County recently completed a major restoration of the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House on Main Street in Westminster.
This project was selected for a 1991 Historic Preservation Project Award from the Maryland Historical Trust in recognition of the outstanding quality of the restoration. An open house in honorof receiving this award will be on Saturday, May 18.
The educational program at the house museum provides many insights about the early history of Carroll County. Research accomplished aspart of the restoration project has revealed many new findings aboutPennsylvania German culture, women's history and the African-American experience in Carroll County.
The Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House was saved from demolition by the Historical Society in 1939. A free Visitors Guide to the house museum and information about tours of the house are available by calling the Historical Society at 848-6494.
The original owner of the house was Jacob Sherman, a pre-Revolutionary War innkeeper at the Main Court Inn site (located across Main Street from the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House). Architectural details in the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House, some of which were restored as part of the project, provide major clues about Jacob Sherman.
When the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House was constructed in 1807, Sherman useda design and plan closely related to a traditional style found on local farms that was popular in Carroll County throughout the 19th century.
A basic element of this style is the L-shaped plan that has aresidential main block and service wing in the ell.
Sherman used this floor plan as well as other representative characteristics that comprise the regional farmhouse style, including as a symmetrical main facade, 2 1/2-story height, gable roof with interior-end chimneys and an inset, double-tiered porch on the inner side of the ell wing.
Sherman also included a number of architectural details that made the house the most impressive along Main Street for its time.
The Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House is distinguished by its over-sized sliding sash windows, molded brick cornice on the main facade, built-in cupboards, a kitchen waste water drain and the extensive use of original paint finishes including grained and marbelized woodwork.
These features indicate that Sherman was a man of considerable affluence inthe community and the refinement in the design of the house reflectshis status in the community.
Sherman's son-in-law, David Shriver Jr., probably had a significant role in designing the house. Innovative lead sash weights, which are embossed with his name and the date 1807, suggest that he was responsible for the selection of counter-balanced windows.
A built-in clothes cupboard was installed in the front west bedchamber where the Shrivers are believed to have slept.
Both features were avant-garde in 1807 and likely derived from the well-traveled Shriver, who was familiar with trends in architecture. Clearly Sherman and Shriver sought to build a home which conveyed their high social standing and their knowledge of the latest architectural styles. In spite of the innovations and refined architectural details, the house retains some conservative ethnic traditions of the Pennsylvania German culture.
The first floor plan of the main block includes a small unheated room that traditionally was the main bedroom,or "kammer," in Pennsylvania German architecture.
Other elements of the architectural analysis led to questions about the early history of the house.
For example, the historic paint analysis revealed that the finish paints were not applied to the interior woodwork until about two years after the house was begun.
Does this indicate delays in the construction of the house?
Or is it tied to Sherman's mercantile status during the economic crisis during the trade embargoof 1807 to 1809?
The story of Sherman's life and business interests is a fascinating study of the early economic development in Westminster and Carroll County.
Documentary research that is described in the Visitors Guide shows that Sherman was a prominent businessman in Piedmont Maryland during the early 19th century.
Deed indexes atthe Frederick County Courthouse show that Sherman and his father, George Jacob Sherman (1724-1812) of Littlestown, Pa., were involved in nearly 50 land sales from 1775-1821.
These transactions provide a fairly clear picture of the Sherman's business and investment activities.
The earliest deeds refers to George as a farmer and Jacob as an innkeeper.
George Jacob Sherman purchased an improved lot (now the inn site across from the house) in the New London section of Westminster in 1775 and established Jacob as a tavern keeper.
Operating a tavern in the 18th century was a relatively lucrative occupation, especially in a growing community such as Westminster.
Over the next two decades, Jacob Sherman acquired additional land holdings near Westminster.