Chapter Log Cabin Restoration Project
Before B-CC IWLA
The Willard Log Cabin is a prominent landmark of our Chapter. The cabin, along with it’s two outbuildings, provide a rarely preserved example of agricultural life in the 1800’s. But farming here began much earlier. Let’s start at the beginning.
Our Chapter resides on land that is part of 1000 acres granted to Robert Peter in 1750. He named the land Crossbasket after his family’s castle in Scotland. ( A Crossbasket is the woven metal hand guard of a Scottish sword). Robert Peter had emigrated from Scotland to the Colonies in 1745. He settled in Georgetown, prospered as a tobacco exporter, and became it’s first mayor. There are few records from this time, but a 1769 survey describes Crossbasket as being a farm in poor repair. It also reports 10 acres of cleared land, some fruit trees, a log house, and a tobacco house.
In 1825, Crossbasket was sold to Robert Dick (another wealthy Georgetown businessman). He re-named the property “Piney Hill Farm”. At this time a one-room log cabin was built – presumably the original section of the cabin we see today. Likewise, we assume the two outbuildings date from 1825. The stone outbuilding that’’s built on top of the spring is interesting. The floor of this building was built to intentionally flood with cold spring water. This is called a “spring box”. It was used to keep food cold – sort of like a natural refrigerator.
During the days of Piney Hill Farm the log cabin housed Jessie Hyatt, the overseer. Census data from 1840 shows there being 33 enslaved people. In 1850 there were 23. And in 1860 the number was 24. Slavery was abolished in Maryland in 1864 (one year after the Emancipation Proclamation).
Robert Dick had bought much land in Montgomery County and mortgaged himself deeply in the process. By 1870 he was forced to sell Piney Hill Farm to Robert Peter’s grandson to pay off debt. The next year, in 1871, the land was sold to the Willard brothers, DeWalt and Charles. The log cabin was probably expanded around this time. It is now two stories with a one story wing on the north side.
In 1888 the farm was divided in half but remained in the Willard family. Then, in 1949, the B-CC IWLA acquired the northern half of the Willard property. We believe that the chimney on the cabin’s south wall was added in the early years of the Chapter’s ownership. During the 1970’s the Chapter employed a caretaker to look after things. He lived in the log cabin and it was “modernized”. Those changes have been removed as much as possible. More recently, during a restoration that ended in 2013, the front porch was added.
The Cabin, Smoke house, and Spring house
Both the original house and the addition are built upon stone foundations. The original house probably had a dirt floor. It now has a poured cement floor. The addition on the right side of the house has a wooden floor above and a comparatively deep crawl space (probably used as a root cellar). The Willard House originally consisted of a single room (for adults) and attic (for children), with a fireplace and chimney on one gable end. The stone chimney is two stories tall, with consistent stonework from top to bottom. The smokehouses of the time tended to be built quickly and roughly, not only to serve their intended purposes but also to provide shelter while the builders worked on the domestic structures, which took more time on account of their finer craftsmanship. The spring house is a stone structure with wooden roof and door. The last occupant of the Willard House was a caretaker who looked after the properties (including the surrounding land and buildings) in the 1970’s.
Relaxation, Inspiration & Education
The B-CC IWLA Cabin Restoration Committee intends to restore the cabin to working order while preserving the character of the original building as much as possible in order to provide an opportunity for the members and families of the Izaak Walton League and their guests to enjoy the peaceful surroundings and learn about the environment. When restored, the Log Cabin will become a focal center for education and information about the BCC-IWLA’s woodlands and wildlife.