Detective work helps farm mark its place in history Heritage: A planner's study of a Carroll site once known as 'Shaffer's Folly' earns it a listing on the National Register.


Thirteen years before Abraham Lincoln was elected president, Jacob F. Shaffer, a young Carroll County stone

mason, purchased 110 acres of farmland about a mile north of Alesia.

The significance of that 1847 purchase was not lost on Ken Short, formerly a historical planner for Carroll County. His documentation has helped place the property on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nor was the significance lost on Susan Catling of Ruxton, in Baltimore County. She was looking last December for a suitable home for herself and her husband, Timothy, and a place to stable two horses, when she discovered a 25-acre remnant of that farm -- with a brick house, stone barn and corn crib -- in northeast Carroll County.

Catling, who is a graduate of a Goucher College certificate program for historical preservation, was intrigued when she learned the property was proposed for the National Register.

"It's one of about 30 Carroll County properties on the National Register," Short said recently, before his grant-funded position ended Friday.

The previous board of commissioners voted not to reapply for the matching state grant of $26,400 to keep Short on the job.

Other Carroll properties on the National Register include Terra Rubra, the Francis Scott Key property; the Carroll County Farm Museum; the Pipe Creek Friends Meeting House; and the Antrim House in Taneytown, Short said.

Short began making an inventory study of the Jacob F. Shaffer farm about two years ago and was impressed by the construction of the red brick farmhouse and the barn fashioned from fieldstone.

"Stone barns are rare in Carroll County," he said. "It's one of five remaining."

A stone bearing the inscription "J.F.S. A.D. 1854" dated the house easily enough. The gray stone barn may have been built as early as 1850, or later. The precise year remains in doubt.

Short's search of county land records unveiled earlier details, and with the help of a Virginia source he was able to piece together a brief biographical sketch of Jacob F. Shaffer, also known as Jacob Shaffer Jr.

Short found that the original tract was known as "Shaffer's Folly" and that Samuel Warner purchased the farm before 1837, when it was still part of Baltimore County.

The next historical reference came in 1847 when Shaffer, 24, paid $1,100 for the 110-acre farm.

Since no advertisements were discovered, Short reasoned that Shaffer probably bought unimproved land for that price -- $10 an acre -- and must have been a successful stone mason to have saved the money for the purchase.

The 1850 census listed Shaffer as a stone mason, but by 1860 census records referred to him as a farmer, Short noted.

"The desire to be a farmer must have been a strong one, for it

has been noticed in other instances in Carroll County that a young mechanic would use his trade to raise money to buy a farm and then abandon his trade," Short wrote in documents forwarded to the National Register.

Shaffer's good fortune continued, as records show he purchased 97 more acres in 1868. In 1876, his land, house, barn and outbuildings had an estimated value of $4,650, even after he encountered money problems, possibly the result of a depression in the early 1870s.

An 1879 newspaper advertisement -- "mortgagee's sale of 192 acres" -- shows that Shaffer's farm also had a dairy.

Jacob Shaffer's son, jeweler Edward T. Shaffer, bought the property, enabling his father to continue living on the farm. But by 1888, the property had to be sold again, and at age 65 Jacob Shaffer apparently returned to his trade and may have lived with a brother in Alesia.

Short learned that Shaffer died tragically in Petersburg, Va., stumbling into the path of a train -- the 10: 15 from Richmond -- on Nov. 13, 1891.

According to newspaper accounts in Virginia, Shaffer was carrying a "fine rifle" and a "carpet bag, in which were a lot of tools," when he was killed.

The body was returned to Alesia and buried at the Hoffacker Church in Baltimore County, Short learned.

After a succession of owners and subdivisions, the 25 acres purchased by the Catlings had no well and a crumbling barn that needed to be converted for horses.

Previous owners had done extensive work on the farmhouse, the Catlings said, but the barn needed lots of work, including new plank flooring on the upper level. They're also adding a tack room and six stalls for horses.

A serious drainage problem, which undermined the stone foundation, was solved by filling two 8-feet-deep trenches with concrete to redirect drainage.

A well was recently dug, ending reliance on a stream to provide water for human and animal consumption.

The Catlings own two horses, Teddy, an Arab, and Shiloh, a half-Arab, half-Percheron, and plan to buy four more.

Having their farm in the National Register is a mixed blessing. While it affords federal and state tax credits for improvements, it will be a constant reminder of the county government's "shortsightedness in not refunding Short's position as a historical planner," Susan Catling said.

"Tourism and heritage go hand in hand," she said. "Carroll County has a lot of history. The Farm Museum is great, but there aren't many other [historical] attractions."

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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