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The Sykesville home that caught fire on Thursday night is part of a property that has deep roots in the town’s history, possibly extending as far back as the Civil War.

A man and a woman were found dead in a home that went up in flames in the 900 block of Raincliffe Road, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. The cause of the fire is unknown and the identities of the victims have yet to be released as of Friday evening.

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The home that burned is part of a historical property. The tenant house, or Dorsey House, as it is called in Maryland Historical Trust documents, stands just south of the Raincliffe Venture Manor.

The property includes the manor, a tenant house (Dorsey House), 13 outbuildings and structures, and two ruins, according to a 2004 Maryland Historical Trust inventory of historic properties form. The manor was built around 1900, and the presence of a stone summer kitchen adjacent to it suggests the house might have replaced an earlier building, according to the form.

Maryland Historical Trust documents from 1979 and 2004 name the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as the owner of the property. DNR spokesperson Gregg Bortz confirmed the Raincliffe property is part of DNR’s Resident Curatorship Program, which allows people to live in historic homes in exchange for repairing and maintaining them.

A 1979 Maryland Historical Trust inventory form describes the tenant house as having a “heavy timber frame, gable roof, three-bay facade with shed addition at rear, possibly an early 19th century house, definitely older than the rest of the buildings… .”

The 1979 report continues:

“The estate complex now known as Raincliffe is a rare survivor late 19th century conception of the grand house and grounds. Victorian-Classical main house is a fine example of its type. Nearby tenant house was probably the original main house. ...The present tenants [at the time] are apparently incapable of and not interested in making repairs or maintaining the structures. The earliest opportunity should be taken to find a new tenant with such capability. The mansion house is just beginning to show serious signs of decay, but may be easily rescued. The outbuildings are sound and in no danger at present. The Dorsey house is in stable condition. The structures on the property are significant as a group, and DNR should make every effort to maintain them as such.”

From the Maryland Historical Trust, dated 1978-1979, Raincliffe property.
From the Maryland Historical Trust, dated 1978-1979, Raincliffe property. (Maryland Historical Trust)

According to Carroll County Times archives from 1992, Nelson Bolton and his wife Leigh became the curators of the Raincliffe property in 1984.

Bolton said Friday he saw the tenant house on fire through his bedroom window and his son called 911.

The Boltons were the second resident curators for the house in DNR’s curatorship program, the Dec. 16, 1992, article reads. As curators, they agreed to restore the home, at their own cost, in exchange for rent-free, tax-free living arrangements, the article states.

The Boltons’ responsibility includes six acres of the estate, including the 16-room manor, ¼-acre pond, spring house, pump house, tenant house, summer kitchen and smoke house, according to the article.

Arthur and Carole Twigg became sub-curators of and moved into the tenant house behind the manor in the late ’80s, the article states. The reporter described the couple in 1992 as “Civil War enthusiasts” who were eager to restore the eight-room home.

“The two can often be found with the lights out, candles aglow, reading books and discussing their favorite American historical period,” the article reads.

The article included little information on the tenant house, but detailed the manor’s role in Sykesville history.

George Y. Wethered, a soldier in the Mexican War (1846-48), bought the property — 400 to 500 acres — in 1856 and named it “Chihuahua,” presumably after a battle that took place in Chihuahua, Mexico, Bolton said in the article.

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Wethered sold the manor to Charles A. Warfield, who bequeathed it to Wade H.D. Warfield. Under the Warfields, it became the second-largest dairy farm in Carroll County, according to Bolton.

During Wade Warfield’s ownership, the place became popular with boarders who wanted to escape the city heat during the summer. The growth of the town’s railroad aided that development.

When the house was updated in the late 1800s, bay windows were added and the once-open porch was enclosed, Bolton said.

Edgar C. Davis became the next owner and added the portico to the front, including two 20-foot wooden pillars, in the 1930s.

In 1944, Capt. Horace C. Jefferson, the mayor of Sykesville in the late 1960s and early 1970s, bought the house. He renamed it Raincliffe after his grandfather’s estate in England.

Jefferson’s wife sold the estate to developers Raincliffe Venture. The company was going to develop the land until the Nature Conservancy bought the land and sold it to DNR.

After sitting vacant for three years, the Boltons took over the manor and began making repairs, according to the article.

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