Historic homestead on market in Carroll


It's not often that a nationally significant historic landmark home comes up for sale. But that's just what has happened. The birthplace and childhood home of the author of our national anthem, Francis Scott Key, is on the market for $1.3 million.

The home, known as Terra Rubra, is situated on 149 acres on Keysville Bruceville Road in northwestern Carroll County. It overlooks beautiful rolling hills as well as the mountains of nearby Frederick County.

"It's hard to find a property or house on the market with such national significance," said Charen Rubin, the listing agent for the property.

Rubin is also the president of Historic Properties Associates Inc., a boutique realty in Frederick that specializes in historic properties.

"This house has everything going for it. Not only is it nationally significant, but ... its site [is] located so central to Maryland history. There's the beautiful architecture of the house, but you also have so many of the important dependencies intact," said Rubin. "You see the full scope of the agricultural history and how it relates to the community, which is very agrarian."

Even when Key went to school at St. John's College in Annapolis and later lived in Frederick and Georgetown, he thought of Terra Rubra as his home, according to Victor Weybright, who wrote the biography Spangled Banner: The Story of Francis Scott Key. And during the summer of 1814, the year Key wrote the poem that became the national anthem, his wife and children stayed at Terra Rubra.

The home is owned by the Terra Rubra Home Trust. Trustee Terri Baker has decided to sell the home after living there for almost 29 years. Baker's father, Lee Brown, bought the property in 1974 and immediately turned ownership over to the family trust. Baker then took over the home and farm. She was only 17.

While most people her age might have opted for a trendy city dwelling or a condominium at the beach, Baker decided to take on the responsibility of owning the birthplace of one of Maryland's most famous sons. "It didn't seem like a huge responsibility at the time," said Baker. "I looked at several other properties, but I really liked this as soon as I saw it. The fact that it was Key's estate was so important. It was also so pretty up here."

The vast property, outbuildings and huge bank barn that went along with the historic home were a bonus for Baker, who through the years raised goats, sheep, cattle and horses there.

"I had never been up here before. I saw the ad in the paper and fell in love with it," said Baker. "I would do it all over again. This for me was always home. And if I was still raising livestock or had [young] kids I would stay."

She and her husband, Alan, are raising two teen-agers, Alan's son Adam Baker and Terri's daughter Tenni Wigle. When the teens graduate from high school, the Bakers will be empty-nesters and have decided to downsize and move on.

"Being an empty-nester coming up soon, we decided to sell," said Terri Baker. "Going down the driveway for the last time will be sad. I've lived here for a long time."

Although the livestock operation is no longer in existence at Terra Rubra, a few animals still grace the farm, including Flash, a basset hound; Rocky, a beagle; and Louie, a pot-bellied pig. About 90 acres of the property are leased and farmed by a local farmer and descendant of a past owner of Terra Rubra.

The original 1770 house was damaged by a storm in 1856. The brick exterior was rebuilt in the vernacular German federal style architecture. Most of the infrastructure, millwork and a section of the flooring remain from the original house. Six fireplaces and mantels are found throughout, three of them in working order.

The original architectural detail can also be found in the beaded boards, hand-forged hardware, molding and doors. Front and back staircases still exist, and the house is of hand-hewn beam construction.

But not everything in the house is old. Over the years it was continually restored, updated and expanded, mixing in many luxury amenities with the original, historic features, all set in a cozy, country decor.

The gourmet kitchen was built four years ago with granite countertops, floor-to-ceiling custom cabinets and a stove with custom copper hood. The original cooking hearth with built-in pine millwork and cabinets remain.

Next to the kitchen are an enclosed back porch with slate floors and a sunroom with cedar walls and a panoramic view of the pond.

In 1900, the old springhouse was moved to the rear of the main house and converted into a bedroom and den.

The two rooms that are most reminiscent of the federal style architecture are the dining room and front parlor or living room. The dining room features a large reproduction chandelier, built-in cupboards and six-panel door. The living room has a mantel, oak pegged floors over the existing old floor, and shoe and ceiling molding.

Upstairs offers three bedrooms and a full bath. The master bedroom includes a back staircase for two entrances and a private, enclosed side porch.

"It was in OK shape when we bought it. Over the years we've done a lot of renovations to make it really nice," said Terri Baker. "I tried to keep a good mix of old and new. I believe we've kept the house in the manner it should be kept."

And that's important, said Rubin, who agrees it is good that they didn't go through the house and incorporate several modern amenities, such as riveting the place with too many extra bathrooms.

"What they've done is very appropriate," she said. "The guts of the house are magnificent and are all there. They've been very, very careful with everything they've done, and all of the materials put into the house were top-of-the-line. And that's usually my experience when I sell these historic homes. They've put so much personal emotion and money into the upkeep. They really feel a responsibility to keep it up."

The response from interested buyers has been good, said Rubin.

If the house isn't enough to catch a buyer's eye, maybe the property with its many outbuildings and spectacular views will help.

The two-story barn, at 111 feet by 52 feet, is believed to be one of the largest bank barns in Carroll County. Built in 1922, the barn offers dramatic oak beam construction, nine box stalls, several pens, a slate roof and stone foundation. Baker said it was the site of many popular barn dances a few years back.

Other features of the property include an old pigpen, wagon shed, milk room, smokehouse, poultry barn and two-seater privy. Many of the outbuildings have slate roofs.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features is the guest house, complete with six-person hot tub, kitchen, slate roof, central air conditioning and cathedral ceiling. On the outside is a professional-grade barbecue with motorized rotisserie.

But for those who are attracted to the farm specifically for the historic significance, there is plenty to go around.

The land was granted from Lord Baltimore to Francis Scott Key's great-grandfather, Philip Key, in 1753. Terra Rubra, meaning red earth, was completed in 1770. It is believed that George Washington made a political speech at Terra Rubra in July 1791 when Francis Scott Key was 12 years old.

Originally the Key estate consisted of 1,865 acres in what was then Frederick County. It later grew to 2,790 acres. The site is not hard to find because of a large stone plaque and American flag that point out the house to passers-by. The stone plaque was dedicated in 1915, and the flag was dedicated in 1949. As ordered by a joint resolution of Congress, the flag at Terra Rubra is flown continuously, day and night.

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