The Carriage House…
The historic little building affectionately known as “The Carriage House” is the second largest exhibit on the Rural Life Museum campus. Moved to this location from downtown Trappe during the first part of the twentieth century where it once housed a “Notions” store, which meant it sold sewing supplies and other small items, and was later used as an office, possibly by Mr. C. Simpson.
This nearby square (12′ x 13′) building with a hip roof has circular sawn framing timbers, and originally had machine sawn lathing secured with machine made nails and a plastered interior. Construction methods and the Greek Revival cornice suggest a date of circa 1850s, but period maps do not show the building at the Trappe location until the 1880’s.
While at its present location the original ceiling joists were cut out and a lower ceiling inserted. The floor, front windows, and door were removed and an enclosed stair constructed along the west wall. (The open door to the enclosed stair can be seen in the photo below.) Tradition has it that Anthony B. Adams [1870-1939] who operated the nearby Defender Packing Co. cannery had the building so altered to accommodate his carriage and henceforth it became known as The Carriage House.
Over the years the building fell into general disrepair. By 2010 The Rural Life Museum had received grants totaling $7,500 to restore this historic structure to its 19th century splendor. The floor was replaced, and the ceiling, doors and windows were put back as close as possible to original. Part of the enclosed stairway was retained as a historical exhibit. The addition to the back of the building shown in the picture at the right is believed to be a later addition not original to the building and was not reconstructed. Today The Carriage House houses the museum’s African-American History & Heritage exhibits and more. (See History of The Carriage House below for more about this historic building and how it was almost destroyed by fire in 1934.)
Current Carriage House Exhibits…
History & Early Pictures of “The Carriage House”…
The early history of The Carriage House is a bit sketchy but discoveries made during and after renovations in 2010 have filled in the some of the gaps and raised a few new questions. The photos above and right are the oldest known images of this little building. The photo is the same as is on a Trappe picture postcard written in 1908.
The Maryland Historic Trust, State Historic Sites Inventory Survey No. T-489 completed by Orlando Ridout V., Historic Sites Survey Coordinator in 1982 included the following:
A small frame outbuilding is located approximately 50 yards to the south of the house [Defender House]. This building measures 12 feet by 13 feet and was also moved to this site. presumably from Trappe. This nearby square building with a hip roof has been altered by large openings cut in the north and south wall. Original window openings remain visible on the east and west walls. The eaves are boxed in and trimmed with a handsome complex crown mold of Greek Revival period and a smaller bed mold. The interior was plastered with machine sawn lathing secured with machine made nails. The framing members are circular sawn and the studs are close-set. An enclosed stair rises against the west wall to a small 10ft space. The original ceiling joists have been cut out and a later, lower ceiling has been inserted.
The original function of this building is unknown. The size of the building and the close-studding are typical of meat houses in this region, but the plastered walls and original windows suggest a more formal use such as an office. The circular sawn framing timbers, machine sawn lathing and Greek Revival cornice suggest a date of circa 1850s.
It was only after the Rural Life museum was organized in 2006 that the Carriage House building was identified as the building on the picture postcard above. Knowing the exact location of the building allowed it to be identified on several period maps including the 1901 Sanborn Fire Insurance map at the right. The 1891 map shows the same building. The 1877 atlas map of Trappe shows a longer rectangular building of about the same width at this location which may or may not be The Carriage House building. The 1877 atlas also identifies the larger building just off the southeast corner of the The Carriage House building as being owned by M. Merrick. This will later prove significant in determining when the The Carriage House may have been moved to the Museum campus.
The 1927 Sanborn map (below left) shows a building of about the same width but a little longer, not unlike the Carriage House building shown in Fig. 1 -1982 above. This longer building is even closer to the Merrick building, but is this The Carriage House building with an extension added after 1901 or a different building at the same location? The answer may lie within the building itself.
Before renovations began in 2010 the building was inspected and photographs were taken. Charred wood was found in the roof area near the back of the building and the stubs of some of the original floor joists that were removed to lower the ceiling to create the loft space were burned on the sides but not on the cut ends (see inset upper right corner of photo below), suggesting that the fire occurred before the building was altered. The date of the alterations, presumably made to make the structure suitable to house a carriage, is unknown but most likely took place after the structure was moved to its present location.
The roof was replaced over plywood in 1982 by Cynthia Miles, and was probably replaced at least once following the fire. The reroofing now makes it impossible to know the extent of the fire damage or exactly where the building’s chimney once stood. The 1908 postcard picture clearly shows a brick chimney with a half-round rain cap on the north side of the structure.
The picture (right) shows some of the fire damage and where the floor joists were cut to lower the floor. Before the building was restored, the loft contained an eclectic collection of old automobile parts, machinery, and junk.
But when was the building damaged by fire and where was it located at the time, and could it have been damaged by more than one fire? One possible explanation lies in this fire report dated January 05, 1934 from the diary kept by C.F. Willis Sr. of Clora Dorsey farm, Trappe; “A fire took place in the Mrs. W. S. Merrick building (used as a barber shop & home above) & was about destroyed – C. Simpson’s office lost its roof “. If the Carriage House building, clearly shown as an “office” on the 1901 map (red arrow on ’01 map above), is in fact the same building shown at that location on the 1927 map as a “store” (red arrow on ’27 map above), and if C. Simpson had his office in the rear extension, and if Mrs. W. S. Merrick’s building that burned is the same as the M. Merrick building shown on the 1877 map (red arrow on ’77 map above left), then owing to the very close proximity of the two buildings, the Carriage House building (CH blue arrow left) must surely have housed the office that lost its roof in 1934. The damage noted during the restoration being consistent with that described in the 1934 fire report.
Fires were common at that time and the Carriage House building could have been burned in a different fire at a different place and time. At this time, we cannot be 100% certain that the building shown on the 1927 map is the Carriage House building, but the shape matches the 1982 picture. The rear extension is not shown in the 1908 photograph and it is shown in very poor condition in the 1982 photograph. It would be reasonable to conclude that the addition could have been added before 1934.
If the above scenario proves to be true, then the Carriage House building was moved to the Museum campus sometime after 1934 which raises another question.
Tradition has it that Anthony Bennett Adams Sr. [1870-1939] (left) moved the Carriage House building to its current location and modified it to house his carriage shortly before, or shortly after opening the nearby Defender Packing Co. cannery in 1913. At that time, Mr. Adams was living in a house located a little south and west of the cannery just off of “Old Trappe Road” (Rt. 213 then, now Rt. 565); the Carriage House building was located some 300 or more yards away behind the boiler room at the far north east corner of the Cannery. (See “X” cannery photo below.)
It should be noted that research completed by Maurice Donovan “Donnie” Adams [1928-1985] indicates that Defender House would not be moved to this campus until 1922, making this a rather odd location for Mr. Adams’ “carriage house” in 1913. This location would however prove to be an ideal location for an “outbuilding” to accompany the Defender House which would arrive some years later.
In the “Autobiography of Maurice Tarbutton Adams” Maurice stated: “Just prior to World War I [1914-1918] my father [Anthony Bennett Adams Sr.] bought a new auto. His first two cars were Model T Ford’s that had to be cranked. This car was an Overland (Big Four) and had an electric starter”. It is clear that if this little building arrived circa 1913 or later, Anthony Adams Sr. would already have been driving his third automobile and would have had little use for a traditional “carriage house”.
So what was this little building used for after the move, and how did it come to be called The Carriage House? One possible explanation is that, keeping an Adams tradition of seldom discarding anything, Anthony Adams likely still had his carriage and even though he was now driving automobiles, needed a place to store the old carriage, just in case he ever needed it or any part of it. Those who may have observed a carriage stored in this little building would understandably take to calling it a carriage house, even though it lacked the elegance or purpose one often associates with the term.
Anthony B. Adams moved to his newly completed home in Trappe at what is now 4096 Main Street in 1920 and his son Maurice T. Adams moved into the house on the Defender Packing Co. campus. Maurice Adams and his family were displaced when their home was destroyed by fire in 1935.
Today nothing remains of the Adams home that burned or the nearby dairy barn and related farm buildings. Likewise nothing remains of the cannery save the foundation of the steam engine that once powered it, and the well from which water was drawn for the boiler. The white “X” on the picture (above-right) shows the approximate location of the Carriage House building. The home that burned was more or less in line with the barn and between the barn and the road, just beyond the right edge of this picture. What exactly happened to The Carriage House and how it was used between 1901 and 2010 may never be completely known, but today this little building has a bright future at The Rural Life Museum looking very much like it did in 1891 when it was a little “Notions Shop”.
Reconstruction of “The Carriage House”…
1. Front of “The Carriage House” in 2007 before reconstruction
2. Back of “The Carriage House” – Charred wood shown likely salvaged and added at a later date as the adjacent siding appears to be undamaged.
3. New timbers added and the building set on a new brick foundation.
4. Closed stairway leading to the loft – note the hinge post used to support “carriage house” doors.
5. Fire-blackened roof rafters supporting plywood under previously replaced roof.