Stone, Hearth and History: Discovering America’s German Roots at Schifferstadt

Schifferstadt: a grey stone, two story building with two smaller brick attachments

Tucked away in Frederick MD, is an exquisite piece of 18th-century history. The Schifferstadt Architectural Museum, once the home of German immigrants Joseph and Elias Brunner, offers a fascinating look at German colonial architecture and lifestyle — I mean, I know I geeked out on this museum tour! This well-preserved residence showcases a blend of authentic German heritage and colonial American spirit.

The property features three interconnected buildings, each echoing the architectural trends of its time. The original two-story stone house, a brilliant example of German Colonial architecture features two-foot-thick sandstone walls and hand-hewn white oak beams secured by wooden pegs. A smaller brick summer kitchen and a bake oven date to the mid-19th century, replacing the original home on the property, a log cabin. Today, these additions house the gift shop.

Schifferstadt’s Architectural Features and Artifacts

This isn’t a traditional house museum with furnishings that help you understand the lifestyle and lives of its inhabitants. Instead, this tour and the museum itself focuses on the unique, original architectural features. Whether you’re really into architecture or not, you can’t help but marvel at the intricately designed stone arches that provide structural integrity, as well as other quintessentially German elements like ‘wishbone’ chimneys and flared eaves.

One of the key prides of the museum is a perfectly preserved cast-iron stove, dated 1758, in the home, engraved with a Bible quote, in German of course, from Matthew 6:21: ‘Where your treasure is, there is also your heart.’ Two other similar wood stoves have since disappeared, but you can see exactly where they were located. Also called jamb stoves, these were parts of a clean, energy-efficient radiant heating system, fed by fireplaces accessed from the center hall. One is still there—the only one anywhere known still to be in its original place—and is the basis for dating the house at 1758 because of the date cast into the plates.

Where your treasure is, there is also your heart.

A narrow winding staircase lead to the second floor, revealing deeply paneled doors, complete with original hand-wrought iron latches and locks. The second floor center hall reveals a barrel ceiling where the flues from the various stoves and kitchen hearth fireplace join into a center chimney that ascends through the attic.

Another narrow winding staircase ascends to the attic — and our wonderful docent, sensing our geekiness, offered to bring us up there. Also with us on our tour was Patrick, a delightful companion for a tour of an historic house. He restores historic properties, and thus, asked really interesting questions for an architectural house tour!

Miraculously, much of the original construction and detailing survives, despite continuous occupation up to 1972/3. The architectural details reveal particular examples of German influence, including a tightly winding staircase to the second floor.

Among the mysteries of the house’s construction is there is what looks like a traditional external front door being used as a door to the biggest bedroom in the house (believed to be a bedroom for guests). Another is that one of the gables on the original house is brick.

A Journey to the American Dream

The Brunners were part of the wave of German immigrants who left their homeland to purchase land and establish successful farms in America. The story began in 1728 when Jacob, the son of Joseph Brunner, first arrived in Philadelphia. The rest of the Brunner family soon followed, moving eventually to Frederick, where Joseph Brunner successfully obtained 303 acres of virgin timberland. He named the property Schifferstadt, after his hometown in southeastern Germany.

It is worth noting that our tour guide, Boyce Rensberger, is a descendent of Joseph and Catrina. One of their daughters married a Rensberger. His story of discovering his connection to this house is as interesting as the house itself.

The Brunners built a simple log cabin, long disappeared, and began taming the land and creating a farm. They were successful, and the Brunner’s youngest son, Elias, eventually purchased the farm in 1753. He too was prosperous enough that by 1758, he hired masons, and built the five bedroom, center hall stone home.

The Brunner family and their descendants owned the house until 1899 when Frederick resident Edward C. Krantz purchased the house, along with just 94 acres of land.

Schifferstadt After the Brunners

During the Krantz ownership, the buildings deteriorated significantly and it was almost entirely a rental property. By 1972, it was almost demolished to make room for a gas station. Fortunately, four enterprising women joined together to form the Frederick County Landmarks Association. With some help from the Maryland Historical Trust, they saved this historical gem from obliteration. Also kind of cool, I grew up a few blocks away from Schifferstadt, frequently passing it. My older sister went to school with a girl who lived in the house in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

The U.S. Department of the Interior designated Schifferstadt a National Historic Landmark due to its distinct architectural features and well-preserved condition. The site offers guided tours to visitors interested in exploring this invaluable facet of American history.

The Schifferstadt Architectural Museum is not merely a building; it’s a an enduring tribute to the American dream. With its fascinating artifacts, beautiful gardens, and very cool stories, it remains a must-visit destination for anyone interested in American history.

Know Before You Go

There is not a parking lot for Schifferstadt. However, the Church of the Brethren across the street allows museum guests to park immediately across from Schifferstadt.

Getting there: 1110 Rosemont Ave, Frederick, MD
Hours: Open for tours, Saturdays and Sundays, 1 – 5 p.m. Check the website for special events.
Website: Frederick County Landmarks Association

Want to check out even more house museums? Check out the many house museums in the mid-Atlantic region!

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