Monday, September 26, 2016

John H. B. Latrobe's "Fairy Knowe"

Overlooking his brother Benjamin Latrobe Jr.'s magnificent Thomas Viaduct (more on the B & O Railroad stone bridge HERE), and seen by the RR passengers, John H. B. Latrobe had a country house "Fairy Knowe" designed by Robert Carey Long Jr. who also designed Patapsco Institute and Mt. Ida.  Latrobe, son of the architect of the US Capitol, owned and designed a cottage, "Maryland Row", at White Sulpher Springs and was the lawyer for the B & O Railroad.  Below is a floor plan of #1 and Latrobe's description of #2 designed with John Niernsee...

"Fairy Knowe" was on Lawyer's Hill in Elkridge, and its name is from Sir Water Scott's The Tale of Old Mortality.  It had modern conveniences of gas, speaking tubes and water from a 'water ram' imported from England for $100. Latrobe wrote a letter about the new water ram HERE ; the house was at 6005 Old Lawyers Hill Road, Elkridge.

"Fairy Knowe"  #1  1843-1850

DESCRIPTION—A. Carriage Road. B. Piazza, 10 by 34 feet. C. Parlour, 22 by 15. E. Chamber, 13 by 15. F Chamber, l4 by l5. G. Chamber, 10 by 15. H. Passage, 3ft.6. I. Passage, 4ft.4. J. Gateway, 6 ft.  K. Chamber, l7 by 17. L Pantry, 15 by 66. M. Kitchen, 15 by 15. N. Gallery, 4ft. O. Store-room, 8 by 10. P. Shed, 7 by 10. Q. Kitchen-yard. R. lce House. S. Shrubery. T. Flower Garden.

We are gratified in being able to give in our present number, a VIEW OF THE SPLENDID COTTAGE RESIDENCE of our fellow-citizen,  John H. B. Latrobe, Esq. which for the last few years, has so universally commanded the admiration of travellers on the Balt. & Ohio, and Washington R.[ail] Road, who have beheld it, in bold relief, from its elevated position near the Relay House, as they neared that point, in going to the National Metropolis from Baltimore. Mr L. has long been appreciated as a gentleman of exquisite classical taste; for the possession of a familiarity with, and knowledge of, the science of Architecture—and in the design for his residence, he called to his aid the talents of that eminent artist, Robert Carey Long. (Jr. 1810-1849) Esq. who has raised a monument to his fame in many of the splendid public as well as private edifices which adorn our city. The execution of the work was entrusted to Mr. A. L. McNeal, a Master Builder of our city, much to his credit as a workman, and to the satisfaction of his employer— and having known him for many years as a worthy man and an excellent citizen, we are pleased to learn that the workmanlike manner in which he performed the duty assigned him, has secured the patronage of other gentlemen engaged in the erection of similar buildings. The plan of the cottage, it will be seen, combines compactness and convenience of arrangement, with a handsome and picturesque exterior. It may furnish hints to these having in view the erection of a summer residence, and it is an instance of the fact that taste rather than money is requisite in the production of beauty in the simplest specimens of architecture. The building contains, besides a large piazza, a parlor, dining room, five chambers [bedrooms], an ample pantry, four large closets, a kitchen with two comfortable servants rooms over head, and a large store room adjoining it. Such a building can be built for $2500 without extras, with two coats of plaister, and two coats of paint on the inside, and three on the planed work of the outside. The weather-boarding is rough, colored with awash of lime mixed with linseed oil and salt, to the consistence of paste, and then reduced, with water, to a proper degree of fluidity to be conveniently applied. Whilst the cottage itself is accordant in proportions, chaste and classic in design, an examination of the "Ground Plan" below, will convince the lover of country homes, that comfort has been consulted with as much success as has the proprieties of the architectural art, and that taken as a whole, there are but few gentlemen's residences in our country combining so much of the utile, [useful] with that which is beautiful. The fine engravings which accompany this notice, were executed by Mr. Tho. H. Mumford, of Philadelphia, and are in the highest degree creditable to his skill as an artist."
The American Farmer, Baltimore: Aug. 1845

Water ram 1844
"The first water ram erected in this country was imported a few years since from England, [1844] at an expense of one hundred dollars, and put in successful operation at Fairy-Knowe, the residence of J. H. Latrobe, esq., near Baltimore, Md.

Within a few years, some of our ingenious mechanics have taken hold of the subject, and they are now made for a very trifling expense, in comparison to the one imported by Mr. Latrobe. Among the earliest to improve the machine, I would name B. S. Benson, near Baltimore, Md., by which pure spring water may be forced up by a stream of brook on impure water."
American Journal of Agriculture and Science  June 1847

"Fairy Knowe"  #2   c1850-1925?

From the book John Hazlehurst Boneval Latrobe and his times 1803-1891 -

" 'Fairy Knowe,' my country residence, and a word or two as to this one of my possessions may not be uninteresting to those that will, I hope, continue as my descendants to possess the very lovely spot which has grown to its present beauty from the end of the spur of a Chestnut ridge overlooking the Patapsco, where this stream breaks through the primitive rock to wend its way to the Chesapeake through alluvial lands.

"My wife was an invalid after a year or so of married life, and I took her every summer to the White Sulphur Springs, where I immediately became the owner of a cottage, which after a plan of my own had many innovations, and the row used to be known, and perhaps still is known, as Baltimore Row.

One year, 1840 or 1841, she was not strong enough to take the journey to Virginia, and we obtained quarters at the Relay House, on the B. & O. R. R. Here she improved in health so much, that I determined to have a cottage built on the present site... as pretty a place as there is in Maryland. 

It is indebted for its name to my wife. A dozen were proposed and she fixed on its present title. 'Fairy Knowe' is the place where the catastrophe of Old Mortality is made to take place. [from the 1816 Sir Water Scott book The Tale of Old Mortality or just Old Mortality]

The predecessor of the present dwelling burnt down in the last week in May, 1850, I think, in the middle of the day. Nothing was left standing but the stack of chimneys to greet me, when I rode on horseback from Baltimore on hearing of the fire, a sorely tired and bemired equestrian. There was a crowd on the land whom I set to work at once to clean up the ground; the chimney stack was toppled over, and things made presentable by sundown. 

I sent to town for an architect [John Niernsee], and he came the following day, Sunday. We had a consultation in the summerhouse, and determined upon a plan. On Monday I had a superintending carpenter, and the cellar was begun, and without going into details the present dwelling was erected in fifty-four working days, papered, supplied with water, gas, speaking tubes, and all the modern arrangements for comfort. 

When it is remembered that the home is in the general shape of an L, 63 feet front, 33 feet on one side, and 54 on the other, with two stories of twelve feet, and one of nine, this was something of a feat, at least so considered at the time. The material is of wood, inch weatherboarding, brick nogged, and at the end of 25 years without a crack. For seven years we lived at Fairy Knowe all the year around, from 1857 to 1863."
John H. B. Latrobe and his times 1803-1891 by John Edward Semmes.  Baltimore:1917

John Niernsee architect (1814-1885)
Niernsee and his partner Neilson met when they were designing for the fledgling B&O railroad under Ben Latrobe, Jr and his brother John was the attorney.  The firm of Niernsee and Neilson designed the Baltimore homes of both Latrobe brothers and many other homes and buildings.  The design was in A. J. Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses of 1850, with Niernsee adding the tower.
Niernsee and Neilson, Architects of Baltimore by Randolph Chalfant and Charles Belfoure.  2006 p34-35  sketch of FK#2 (from Md Historical Soc.) and Downing home.

Fairy Knowe Hotel  burned in 1921
At some point the home was rented out or became a hotel, whether using the house or building on the land.  The British Consul General had been there during the summer of 1919, and in 1905 Mrs. Cornelius D. Kenny and her daughters were listed at Fairy Knowe.

In 1921, "Fairy Knowe Hotel and auxiliary buildings ['on Lawyer's Hill'] established last spring by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas V. [Vindlow] Boardman of Washington, at Elkridge, Md., was totally destroyed by fire recently, loss $75,000." 
The Hotel World: The Hotel and Travelers Journal. Chicago: Nov 19, 1921; Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, 1921
Fairy Knowe barn made into a house from HABS HO-610. Fairy Knowe #2 from the booklet Lawyers Hill Heritage by the Elk Ridge Heritage Society, 1983.

©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

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