18th-century farm into museum

May 14, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Nestled among the trees just off Bayside Beach Road in Pasadena lies an old farm called Hancock's Resolution.

At first glance, passers-by are rarely enticed enough by the meager appearance of the structures to take a closer look, but those who venture up to the front door quickly discover that looks can be deceiving.

Although the house is owned by Anne Arundel County, James Morrison, a local man with no ties to the house but a strong love of history, founded a group that is working to restore the property to a self-sufficient, authentic 18th-century farm. He started his work in 1997 by founding the Friends of Hancock's Resolution, which now has 260 members.

Since the founding of the group, Morrison, who serves as its president, has overseen a $350,000 restoration project, helped establish a country store at the site, implemented and helped to run several annual activities, and now is working to get funding to build a museum and visitors center on the property.

"People sometimes don't realize that there's a lot of history outside of Annapolis," Morrison said. "So they don't know about this place, so I want to help preserve its place in history."

The original farmhouse was built about 1785 by Stephen Hancock Jr., though the land surrounding it was farmed as early as the 1660s. The property was in a state of disrepair when James Morrison and his wife first saw it back in 1997.

"You couldn't get to the door, the brush and plants were so overgrown," Morrison said. "The interior of the house was not in good shape with water coming in, a raccoon had built a nest in the house, and the front porch was gone except for the foundation."

Morrison had just retired from a job with NASA after more than 26 years and was looking for something to fill his time. Hancock's Resolution seemed the perfect project for him to undertake.

"It had been sitting there for a decade, and no one was taking care of it," Morrison said. "If I didn't do something with it, who would? It is so rare to have a home with this level of authenticity in this period that is open to the public."

The museum and visitors center is in the preliminary stages, but Morrison said it's a project he wants to see through.

"We have so many artifacts, papers and furnishings from the early farm," Morrison said. "We want to restore this place back to the way it once was and have exhibits that tell its story."

But for now, he tells the story himself.

The history of the house dates back to the 1780s, according to a report using dendrochronology -- dating through the study of tree-ring growth -- done on the main beams in the cellar that was compiled by a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

"The professor determined that the trees were cut down after the growing season in 1783 and before the growing season in 1784," Morrison said. "From those findings he estimated that the house was probably built about 1785."

Although there are other properties built about the same time that are spread throughout the state, it's rare to find a home built in the 18th century that wasn't the house of the gentry, Morrison said.

In addition to the house, the stone milk house, the original well and the graveyard also date to 1785. The property includes 26.5 acres at present, but was a sprawling 410 acres as late as 1892.

The original property had several unusual features, including the exterior walls created with galleting, a decorative style of stonework in which small stones are set in the mortar between large stones.

"We had someone from the Maryland Historical Trust come out and visit the property, and they were amazed that the entire house was done using galleting," Morrison said. "Typically, it was only used on a small portion of the homes."

Although some restoration work had to be done to the galleting because of the decaying mortar, the integrity of the house was not damaged, Morrison said.

"The family didn't change anything in the buildings from the time they were built," Morrison said. "So they are true artifacts of the time."

And although the property was in a bad state, the restoration workers were able to preserve it as it was when the Hancocks resided in it.

For example, the front porch was gone, but there was enough left of it to make it easy to duplicate.

"When we began the excavation of the porch, the original foundation was still in place," Morrison said. "And we found an original beam that helped us determine the height of the roof."

As they began work on the roof, Morrison met 75-year-old Henry Schmidt of Pasadena, who is a 10th-generation member of the Hancock family.

Schmidt arrived on the scene as workers were identifying rotted boards in the house. Schmidt had a barn that had the same kind of boards, which he donated for use in the house.

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