03 Apr A Visit to the Shaw Mansion

Last week, Jill and I visited the Shaw mansion in western Maryland. Jill found it on the internet when she was trawling for old houses, as she often does because we’re crazy about old houses. I was scheduled to do a reading at the very cool Gordon-Roberts House in Cumberland. The Shaw mansion is about forty minutes away, tucked into the hills — in Barton, Maryland.

The Shaw mansion is significant enough to be on the National Register of Historic Places “as an unusually large and well-preserved example of the style [Italianate] for its area, with stone trim, detailed brick bonding, cast-iron mantels and much of the original interior woodwork.” You should know that being listed on the National Register does not protect a house from being torn down. It just means the house is really cool and should be protected.

We called the owners — Scott and Connie Waterfall — and they welcomed our last minute visit. I wanted to interview them for Preservation America, a documentary project I’m doing (more on this in another post). There was still snow on the ground as we wended our way into Maryland’s back country, traveling in our camper van (with the dogs, of course). On the way, we stopped at the Lonaconing Furnace, one of the first in America: it’s a massive stone structure that holds an iron smelter, which started making iron in 1839.












You can’t miss the Shaw mansion: it’s a two-story brick house with a high, elegant profile, accentuated by a white band of Italianate corbels at the roof’s cornice. Its windows are large and original, with massive frames. Although most of its land has been sold off — typical of such houses, which would have owned the surrounding property as far as the eye could see — it still retains 5 acres or so.

Connie and Scott are friendly and laid back and that’s the disposition you need for a big project like this. Their plan is to open a B & B, which the mansion once was. The good thing is that much of that (e.g., bathrooms in its four guest rooms) is in place and the house is solid. They’ve come a long way. Scott wants to open sooner than Connie does — she wants to make sure everything is in place. The big bump in the road is that they’re from Baltimore and have to commute every weekend to work on the mansion. Now, that’s commitment!






They bought the house in 2010 and have reclaimed the grounds, which were overgrown, painted the rooms, restored the cast iron mantels, fixed radiators and doors and steps and stabilized the basement, where Scott has built his shop and where, incidentally, there’s a spring running through it. Scott is a machinist (metal smith) and Connie’s a safety expert, skill-sets that will serve them well. Right now they’re working on the leaks in the roof. There are many leaks (and leaks are sneaky) because one of the previous tenants, a church, sold off the slate that once covered the roof, then replaced it with a single layer of tin.

It is amazing that a house built in 1872 can retain so much of its original features. The pantry is still intact and so are all of the windows, many with original glass, and the house has never been cut up into apartments. It’s often the case that large houses like this are taken over by schools or churches or similar organizations. And that’s sometimes the best way for them to survive. But, then, if the organization needs money, it might sell off bits and pieces of the house.

In addition to using the house as a B & B, Scott and Connie expect to rent out the ground floor for events. The ballroom on the first level is as long as a bowling alley and three times as wide. They also got a commercial kitchen in the bargain and plan on putting it to good use. We look forward to keeping up with the Waterfalls and we’ll send many good thoughts their way as they bring this special house back to its full potential.

Visit the Shaw mansion here