Why’s a Mysterious Mansion on the Frederick Barnstorming Tour?

When I was a teenager, in the wisdom of my few years, I decided that serving as a road crew laborer for the Maryland State Highway Association was so much smarter than being a waitress. It was the best and worst job I’ve ever had! But during that miserably hot summer of picking up road kills, mowing medians and riding in the cab of a dump truck around Frederick County, we frequently passed a yellow house near Burkittsville, on the Hamilton Williard Shafer Farm. At the time I thought it was deserted, and it lured me — I so wanted to trespass and go in and explore. But, I wisely didn’t. As, it turns out, it was still inhabited.

Fast forward several decades, and we’re on the 2021 Frederick County Landmarks Barnstorming tour, and the barn that belonged to that fascinating old house is on the tour! And the current owners, a local preservation group, was generously offering tours THROUGH the house.

U.S. Army General William Franklin used the house as his headquarters for the Battle of Crampton’s Gap during the Civil War. That’s cool. The farm’s high elevation made the farm a logical choice for Franklin, as it afforded an uninterrupted view of the entire battlefield. His 12,800 troops moved into position around Burkittsville to push the Confederates out of Crampton’s Gap on September 14, 1862.

Mary Shafer Motherway owned the house — and was living in it while I was working for the SHA — she lived there until 2004. At the time, I’d even walked around the house, photographing it with my old point-and-shoot non-digital Nikon whatever camera. I’m absolutely horrified that I trespassed on the property where an old lady was living alone.

In the 1890s, Hamilton Willard Shafer purchased the farm and he and his wife, Sarah, raised their daughters Nora and Mary there. Hamilton sold farm machinery and operated a granary until he died from a farm accident. During the Great Depression, Sarah and her daughter Nora took in laundry and had boarders to help them maintain the farm. Mary became a nurse, and married James Motherway, who died in the late 1930s. After WWII, Mary returned to her childhood home, living there until her death in 2004; she was 103 years old.

As with the house, the barn is in terrible disrepair, but the barn belongs on the tour because so many of the region’s beautiful old barns are in similar states.

A group from nearby Burkittsville is trying to restore the house, barn and farm. Just the week before the barnstorming tour, a wind storm had blown out a huge portion of the barn — a shame. The Burkittsville Preservation Association is restoring the Shafer Farmhouse to become an historical attraction. Once restored, the circa 1820 farmhouse will serve as a museum dedicated to Burkittsville history during the Civil War.

The last barn on the tour was the uniquely lavender colored Picnic Woods Farm barn. The farm has a long history, and now serves as a sheep and miniature donkey farm. The owners also use the historic barnyard as a display area for their outdoor sculptures.

Read about part 1 of the Frederick County Landmarks Barnstorming tour!

Getting there and hours: Each year the annual Barnstorming tour explores different barns in the region. Check the website below for this year’s tour details.
Website: Frederick County Landmarks

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