It takes a special person to undertake an extensive restoration/renovation of a historic home. Add the fact that this house and the prominent families who have called this very special house a home are interwoven into Kent County’s history since 1792, when this property was included in the first plat of Chestertown. This might have proven daunting to some owners but this house was lucky to have had many owners over many years who fell under its spell.
The first owner of the property ran a ferry across the Chester River to Kingstown. In 1759, new owners acquired the property and built the front portion of the house at the corner of the property. The two and a half story house with a basement was three bays wide and one room deep. The exposed foundation walls were stone and the original basement windows are now infilled with brick. The brick facades were laid in the Flemish bond pattern with a molded water table and curved segmented arches over the large windows. Brick cruciform chimneys rose above each gable end wall. The front door was surrounded with pilasters and an entablature that is enhanced with decorative brackets to match the eave brackets. The white trim and black shutters complete the classic exterior palette. The floor plan layout was a center hall with parlors at each side, two rooms on the second floor and a separate frame kitchen wing.
From the 18th through the 21st centuries, subsequent owners left their individual mark by building additions, renovating and/or restoring the architecture, interiors and landscape. One owner built the waterside addition that extended the center hall and added two additional rooms on both floors. The landscape was altered by filling in a cove and terracing the lawn down to the water. (This design foresight helped protect the property from flooding during Hurricane Isabel).
After purchasing the property in 1860, another owner made substantial changes to the architecture and interiors. The frame kitchen wing was replaced with a brick structure, porches were built around most of the house, and the brick was covered with stucco and painted white. Steps led down from the porch to the street.
The interior wall of one of the front parlors and the original staircase were removed to make room for a more elaborate staircase to create a spacious reception room. Another focal point of the room is the fireplace with its curved wall that blends into the plaster ceiling. I admired how the white of the fireplace surround stands out against the deep aqua walls. Throughout the house, the woodwork dates from both 18th and 19th century designs and all mantels are original to its period.
The other original parlor is a delightful light filled corner room with large 9/6 windows on both exterior walls.
Two other owners made changes; one added the detached one story brick garage and another owner removed the porches. In 1973, new owners bought the property and turned their attention to the interiors. They made extensive renovations that created three bedroom ensuites on the second floor. The waterside primary suite’s bedroom has three windows for views of the Chester River and a fireplace.
The primary bath has wood floors, a period free-standing lavatory and a tub/shower.
Additional interior renovations included the Owners’ commissioning local artist Jack Schroeder to create a mural that encircles the dining room and illustrates “Rose Hill”, a historic home north of Chestertown.
Thankfully, the Owners also removed the stucco and whitewash to expose the original brick facades.
The current Owners assumed their stewardship in 2012 and undertook a two-year restoration of the house. They wisely began by verifying the structural integrity of the basement foundations and replacing the roof. They upgraded the systems with central AC and replaced the oil furnace with propane. Two of the houses I have called home had radiator heat so I was pleased to see that radiators remained in this house. The Owners also opened up the kitchen area and transformed this space with new cabinetry whose color matched the original tongue and groove paneling in the room, new black soapstone countertops, stainless steel appliances and sleek contemporary cabinet hardware. I especially liked the view from the kitchen’s farmhouse sink and how the stove is inset into the wall behind the fireplace in the adjacent dining room. A second set of stairs leads to the second floor that contains a full laundry and creates another entrance to a guest room and bath. During the renovation, the attic’s finished ceilings were removed to expose the original collar beams. Surprisingly, portions of the original wood shake roofing also emerged and the Owners left the roofing exposed as an accent.
The Owners also retained architect Peter Newlin, FAIA, Ret., to design a breakfast room and an open porch that spans across the rear wall of the kitchen-dining room wing.
Newlin designed another covered porch off the side wall of the breakfast room with steps down to the driveway and garage. The color palette of light yellow siding and green metal roof complements the original architecture.
The current rear elevation shows how the house evolved over four centuries of restorations and renovations to the architecture, interiors and landscape.
The property also has a detached garage and a brick driveway for additional on-site parking. The garage could also become a studio, sports room, media room, etc. Bravo to the current Owners for their dedication to the preservation of this exquisite property! The Smith-Ringgold House is now move-in ready for the next steward of this treasure to save it for generations to come.
For more information about this property, Nancy McDonald McGuire, who helped sponsor this article, at Maryland Heritage Properties , 410-778-9319 (o) ,443-480-7342 (c), or [email protected]. For more photographs and pricing, visit www.marylandheritageproperties.com/home , “Equal Housing Opportunity.”
Photographs by the author who was indebted to Ms. McGuire for sharing her extensive research about this historic property.
Jennifer Martella has pursued dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. She has reestablished her architectural practice for residential and commercial projects and is a referral agent for Meredith Fine Properties. Her Italian heritage led her to Piazza Italian Market, where she hosts wine tastings every Friday and Saturday afternoons.