Carroll County's 'Star-spangled' Town

POSTMARK: KEYSVILLE

July 04, 1993|By WAYNE HARDIN

For 50 years, Jimmy Groshon has been able to look west from his red brick home in Keysville toward the distant Catoctin Mountains and think how lucky he is to be here.

"Anyone who likes country would have a hard time finding a better place," says the 74-year-old Mr. Groshon. "It's quiet, not housed in. The air is great and you have the beauty of the mountains year-round."

Keysville, Mr. Groshon's beloved home, is a northwestern Carroll County village of about 100 people. It was named in honor of either Francis Scott Key or his family; town historians aren't sure which.

This is the town of Terra Rubra, the Key family estate, a mile from where Mr. Groshon's rancher stands today. There, on Aug. 1, 1779, Francis Scott Key, writer of "The Star-Spangled Banner," was born. The area was then a part of Frederick County. Thirty-five years later, while a captive of the British during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Key would stand on the deck of a boat in the Baltimore harbor, see British bombs bursting in the air, the red glare of rockets and the flag still flying over the fort. He would be inspired to write the song that lives long after him.

Terra Rubra (red earth in Latin) sits on a hill on Keysville-Bruceville Road, one of four roads that meet at a four-way stop in what residents called the Keysville "square." The others are Keysville Road, Keysville Road South and Keysville-Frederick County Road.

Clustered leisurely around the square are about 25 homes, two churches, a cemetery, the Terra Rubra Lions Club building (once the community school) and three businesses -- a ladder company, a cabinetmaker and a landscaper. On the western horizon is that range of mountains.

The bells of Keysville United Church of Christ toll the hours in the town. Once, four denominations held services in the building but two moved on and the Lutherans built their own church here in 1920.

Across from the bells, as a gentle breeze blows, Barbara Gately stands outside a brick building that has a "Grandy's Antiques" sign on it. Mrs. Gately closed the shop a while back. It's the old C. R. Cluts General Store, once a community gathering place. She and her husband, Tom, a Westinghouse employee, own the building and the brick house next door where they live. Mrs. Gately still has the Cluts sign, distinguished by an upside down "N" in "General."

"I've learned a lot from the older people," she says of her four years here. "They're in their late 70s and I'm in my late 40s and I can't keep up with them. They're a lot of fun. I love their stories."

Gilbert and Mildred Stine are two older residents with whom she has become friends.

The Stines live in a 1752 stone house down near the Monocacy River. They collect and sell antiques. A generous supply of them were used in the filming last year of "The Killer Angels," a miniseries about the Civil War shot near Gettysburg, Pa. Part of the Stines' 300-acre farm was on the 2,800 acres of Terra Rubra accumulated between 1753 and 1762 by Philip Key, Francis Scott Key's great-grandfather.

Mrs. Stine, 75, was born in Keysville. She and her husband, 76, bought her father's farm in 1947, a year after they married.

"We have a lot of history here," Mrs. Stine says. "I wish people appreciated it more. I say I'm from Keysville. They say, 'Keedysville?' [Keedysville is a town in Washington County.] I say, 'No, Keysville, Francis Scott Key's birthplace.' Even then, some people look at me funny, like 'Who's that?' You'd think everyone would know who he is."

Terri Baker knows. A monument to Key (with the wrong birth date) and a flagpole dedicated to him stand in her front yard -- at Terra Rubra. She was 19 when her father, Lee Brown, bought the farm in 1974. (It's now down to 180 acres.) She has lived there ever since.

The brick house, painted a tannish-beige, went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. After a windstorm destroyed Key House No. 1 in 1858, it was rebuilt on a stone foundation.

"One or two people a week come up the driveway looking around," Ms. Baker says. "They don't know it's a private home; they think it's a museum."

She takes it all with good humor, directing visitors to the remains of an old slave graveyard in the field, pointing out the monument by the maple tree. One or two visits a week is really nothing, compared to 1976, she says.

"In the bicentennial year, we had a steady stream of people all summer long," she says.

History exists in Keysville, of course, but without ceremony. The focus seems more on Keysville as a pleasant place to live.

"At 6:30 every night, the bells at the United Church of Christ play hymns for 20 minutes," Mrs. Gately says. "It's so peaceful and tranquil."

The Keys to Keysville

THE HISTORY BOOK: In 1976, Virginia Stenley compiled "Keysville Historic Reflections," an 84-page book based on research by the Keysville Bicentennial Committee, of which she was a member.

THE NAME: Although Keysville is accepted as the birthplace of Francis Scott Key, the town historians are unclear on whether the community was named for him or his family.

THE OTHER NAME: In 1857, Abraham Zentz settled in Keysville, opened a store and changed the village's name to Zentzville. When he sold the business in 1862, the town became Keysville again.

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