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Farm roots couple in history Land once tilled by noted family


From their big stone house at the end of a country lane in northern Harford County, Richard and Peggy Wilson watch life unfold pretty much as it has for almost two centuries.

On summer nights, the valley twinkles with the endless blinking of fireflies in the blackness. In cooler months, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson watch the deer that come to eat apples from the tree by their kitchen window.

Sometimes, the couple sits on the screened porch and listens to Gladden Run gurgle as it winds its way to Deer Creek, the quiet occasionally interrupted by the shriek of wild animals, perhaps bobcats.

The Wilsons say it was as if they moved to the 19th century in 1985 when they bought the sprawling house and 100 acres where the Gladdens, a prominent local family of dairy farmers, lived and worked the land near Rocks State Park for more than 100 years.

Now, Cold Brook Farm on Rocks Station Road has received recognition as a historical gem: The house and farm recently were added to the National Register of Historic Places, a listing of the nation's cultural resources deemed worthy of preservation.

But the Wilsons say they knew of its historical significance all along.

"There's a sense of roots here that not many people in this century possess," Mrs. Wilson said. "As our son grows older, he will hopefully have a sense of the life that preceded him and a feeling for the traditions which this farm represents."

The Wilsons, both in their early 40s, share the house with their 3-year-old son, John James, and Mr. Wilson's mother, Jean Wolf. Mr. Wilson is an insurance agent who also works part time as a financial planner and investment counselor. Mrs.Wilson, a former teacher, manages the farm and cares for her young son.

Inside the house, the Wilsons often wonder about a smoky aroma that hangs in the air on rainy days, perhaps a reminder of smoked meat stored in the basement many years before.

They even draw their water from the same spring that members of the Gladden family used when they built the three-story farmhouse with its covered porch in 1825.

The original house still stands, with one addition. An old shed remains on the farm near the ruins of a collapsed barn.

The springhouse, which still supplies water for the home, is noteworthy because the Gladdens cooled the milk there from their dairy operation before it was shipped.

When the Wilsons began to landscape their property, they unearthed iron artifacts, jewelry, broken pottery and glass, even Indian arrowheads in flower beds and vegetable gardens.

"Finding the artifacts gives us a feeling of being in contact with the people who inhabited the farm many years ago," Mrs. Wilson said. "We are particularly interested in insights we have gained into what life would have been like on a 19th-century farm."

Christopher Weeks, the preservation planner for Harford County who nominated the farm for inclusion in the National Register, praised the farm house's stonework and said the Gladden family, which lived in it for over a century, played a big role in the development of the Rocks area.

The family was influential in the decision of the old Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad to build a station near their home. An abandoned roadbed runs through the property and can still be seen today.

The house was sold to the Roming family in 1945 and remained in their hands for the next 40 years. The Romings did extensive renovations and maintained the house as a country estate, Mrs. Wilson said.

The Romings maintained the house well, she said, and some original locks, window glass and wood paneling remain.

The Wilsons would like to find several fireplaces which have been covered over and gradually restore the interior of the house as close as possible to its original condition.

Meantime, most of their energy has been focused on maintaining and improving the grounds. They built a barn and pasture fences, enlarged the vegetable gardens and painstakingly landscaped the front yard near Gladden Run.

Today, the farm provides a home to an assortment of horses, ponies, cats and dogs.

The family also plans to breed ponies, raise honeybees and someday hopes to make their home into a working farm once again.

For now, they mow, plant and weed outside and relax when they can on their screened-in porch, enjoying the pastoral setting.

"We like the house because it has character," Mrs. Wilson said. "You have a sense of the past here, a sense of connectedness with other generations. We want to do whatever we can to preserve what for us is a very special place in Harford County."

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