When John Clemson moved from Pennsylvania to eastern Frederick County in the late 1700s, he built a stylish home and founded a local dynasty of sorts.
Two centuries later, his namesake town, Clemsonville, remains an active community near Union Bridge. There's Clemsonville Road, Bessie Clemson Road (named for a descendant) and Clemsonville, his 18th-century manor.
Today, Clemsonville manor is known as the home of the world's largest wreath. And the Clemsonville Christmas Tree Farm is a popular spot for families that want to cut their own trees.
This year, however, visitors will not find the wreath, which measured 116 feet in diameter and weighed 8,165 pounds. The wreath was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records from 1989 to last year.
"We didn't do the wreath this year because the framework was destroyed in [last winter's] blizzard," said Mike Ryan, who owns the Clemsonville manor but is not related to Clemson.
Instead of making a wreath, Ryan and his wife, Mary, decorated a small barn with a Christmas tree and displays of potpourri, dishes and holiday centerpieces. Visitors are welcome to walk through the barn and enjoy hot cider and cookies.
The Ryans bought Clemsonville 21 years ago while they were searching "for a place to grow more trees." They also were looking for a house with some history, one they could restore.
"We wanted to do some things ourselves," he said.
Clemson, who lived to age 90, began building his manor house in 1796. According to one story, Clemson and his carpenter went to Mount Vernon to talk to George Washington about the style of the house, though the tale has never been confirmed, Ryan said.
True or not, Clemsonville bears a faint resemblance to Mount Vernon. The home features six columns across the front and is built of limestone and covered with horsehair and mud, the practice of the time, Ryan said.
Later Victorian lattice decorates the top of the porch between the columns, above the French doors and marble threshold.
"It looks like something from out of 'Gone With the Wind,' " Ryan said. "It took 10 years for Clemson to build, in between farming a couple thousand acres of land. John Clemson owned so much land between here and Frederick that you could hardly walk anywhere without being on his land."
Today, Clemsonville includes 250 acres. The Ryans have devoted 200 acres to Christmas trees, most of them along Clemsonville Road, north of Route 31.
The working farm has a carriage house, springhouse and smokehouse behind the manor house.
Inside the 14-room house, the Ryans have left as much of the original walls, beams, floors, windowpanes and other features as possible. The house has been brought into the 20th century with modern appliances, bathrooms, electricity and heat.
The couple has furnished the house with period reproductions and antiques, some from their family, others purchased at auctions and shops.
"We've been to 150 historical houses, and we picked up on things to do," Ryan said.
One bedroom features an ornate gilt bed and pink carpet. The children's room has three beds; a little girl's lace-trimmed purple dress hangs from the closet door and dolls rest along the wall.
A framed, 100-year-old "Note on Clemsonville" from Bessie Clemson hangs above the desk in the library. Iron silhouettes of George and Martha Washington rest on an old desk ledger.
"We've tried to furnish the house in the period, to make it look the way it would have back then," Ryan said. "But everything is usable. " Although Clemsons no longer own the manor, the family patriarch retains a presence. In a family cemetery on a corner of the farm, John Clemson and about 30 relatives are buried.
The tree farm is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends until Christmas. Information: 848-6084.
Pub Date: 12/19/96