◦ Our Farm's Story ◦
Cool Hollow Flower Farm is located in Washington County in western Maryland. It sits at the edge of a historic area made up of stone homes and barns dating back to an early settlement. The Newcomer brothers Christian, Peter and Wolfgang were Swiss Mennonites moved to this area from Lancaster, Pa. Their family built a number of farms in Beaver Creek, Md and then spread out around the county. These stone farmhouses and barns in Beaver Creek have all managed to avoid demolition and sit around this area, especially near the grist mill, known as Doub's Mill, another mill originally having been built on this site by a Newcomer around 1785. Most of these farms were begun in the late 1700s and the buildings are beautiful examples of German vernacular style. Our house is one of these homes. The house was originally what is called a three bay home, meaning there are three openings on the front. The front is not symmetrical, in the traditional German style. There is no fancy staircase inside to awe visitors, but rather an enclosed small staircase in a corner. This was a humble home with four rooms downstairs and four small rooms upstairs. The more substantial structure on the property was the barn. It was built first and is much larger.
The people who lived here were farmers and their most important occupation was making the land provide them with food and a living. There is a stone smokehouse behind the house which is also older than the house. A summer kitchen stands to the right of the house, built sometime in the 1800s, probably having been re-built at least once. These summer kitchens were meant to prevent heat and fire from being in the main house and they sometimes burned down and had to be re-built. Our house did have an inside kitchen, which is not always how these houses were built. It seems to have always been a room on the back of the house, but it is hard to know for sure. Over two hundred years many alterations have been done and we have pieced together the story of the house from accounts of those who lived here in the early 1900s and from the information the structure itself has yielded. At some point in the 1800s the owners of this land donated the property for the Church of the Brethren building and graveyard which sits on the corner of White Hall Rd. and Beaver Creek Rd. The people who lived in this house rest there on the land their family settled. We've enjoyed learning about how families lived here over time. Living in a home that was built to last is a wonderful experience and gives us a feeling of being a part of a long narrative.
We are interested in understanding the lives of the native Americans who once lived here and who were forced out of this area by European settlement in the mid 1700s. We are near the Black Rock outcroppings where stone was gathered for high quality arrowheads. There are a number of places in this county which were once known as trading locations between European and native American people, although many of the buildings are gone. We have heard stories of numerous arrowheads being turned up in the soil when farmers ploughed in the spring. We can only assume that groups of people moved and possibly lived along the creek at one time, especially because of the many productive fresh springs in this area. Unfortunately there is no visible evidence left of their life here, but they are remembered and we hope that future scholarship will produce more understanding of their lives here.
I first came to western Maryland in the early 1990s when my mother, sister and I were visiting friends who lived in Silver Spring, Md while I was still in graduate school. They brought us out to see a favorite shop in Beaver Creek, Md. That shop has been gone for years and the building has now been beautifully rehabilitated into a church. For those who remember this beautiful place you will know what a wonderful experience was created by the shopkeepers. I was taken with the beauty of the place and never dreamed that I would find myself living up a gravel driveway just steps from that shop in just a few short years. It was absolutely the farthest thing from my imagination. Life can be very surprising.
I have always had a love of old houses and when we came to Maryland from the west coast in 2000 I hoped to have a chance to rehabilitate a historic property. We lived here for a couple years before beginning the search for just the right property. This search took us all over the county to dozens of old farms, but when we came to this place on a cold, snowy February day we knew we had found the place for us. It looked terrible. Every building on the property was in disrepair and the house had been vacant for several years. The roof on the house was failing and windows were broken. Pipes inside had burst. But my husband and I both saw the land and situation of the house and barn and knew this was the place we had been looking for. It is truly a beautiful location and we have never regretted our decision, even though it took many more years than we would ever have thought to get the house rehabbed and to make this into the family home that we envisioned.
I had been interested in gardening in a serious way since my early twenties. My parents both loved to garden and had a beautiful backyard in their southern California house where they spent their spare time when not at work. When I was in graduate school I spent what little spare time I had turning an the garden behind our house into a beautiful paradise in the same southern California town. We had been lucky enough to purchase a house with an established old garden, with good bones and beautiful trees and plantings of roses and amazing succulents. That was my first attempt at gardening and in the wonderful climate of southern California I was able to grow roses with almost no effort, and indulged in growing sweet peas in winter, dahlias in early summer, along with many more Mediterranean plants. I fell in love with growing plants then and it is something I have never lost the love for. When I came to this farm and saw that I could grow flowers plants and trees freely on a totally blank canvas I looked past the broken buildings and saw what could be. That was in 2004, and much work has been done.
In 2007 we completely renovated the entire house, inside and out. My parents were able to buy the house next door and my father and I worked together to do a lot of the work in the older part of the house. Without his help we could never have attempted the work necessary to live here. We added a modern kitchen and made the house into a wonderful family home. The house had only been updated for modern living for the first time in 1974, so we didn't have to remove much, but were able to improve and add on to what had been done. Up until that time that house had had no indoor plumbing and only had electricity in the kitchen. When we arrived there was still a pipe in the creek that had gone directly into the kitchen and had only recently been disconnected. This was a home that had served many families for generations without modern conveniences. Living here we often think of those people who came before us and the work they put into these buildings and this land. When we look at the perfectly straight corners of the stone house and barn, made up of huge stones which have sat here for over two hundred years, we know there is no amount of work we can do which equals what they did here.
In the old fields we've created perennial gardens and flower growing beds on an ever expanding basis. Half of the land is wooded and protected by easement and will never be used for farming, while the other half is open fields, with Beaver Creek winding around two sides of the land. In the low lands we've planted hundreds of trees, some of them now almost twenty years old and getting to be very tall and mature.
The farm is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains and there is still undeveloped farmland between us and the mountains. The creek supports a variety of wildlife including brown trout, deer, foxes, pheasant, mink, coyote, snapping turtles, black bears, river otters, a wide variety of birds including wild turkeys, blue herons, egrets, blue birds, many song birds, barn owls, bald eagles and, yes, very active beavers in the creek. We strive to be good stewards of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and always keep the creek in mind as we choose what to do on our land. The Antietam Creek Watershed Alliance and the Beaver Creek Watershed Association undertook a major restoration project a number of years ago along the banks of our creek, which vastly improved the health of the stream. When we first arrived the banks of the creek were bare and eroding, but because of the extensive work done by these organizations the creek is now lined with shrubs and trees which shade the water and provide a healthy temperature for the spawning of brown trout. Sadly, this late summer a storm allowed dangerous chemical run-off from the nearby interstate into the creek which killed off the brown trout for a long distance, including along our section of the stream. Years of work on the creek were wiped out in one afternoon. It will be a long time before the brown trout population is what it was in the summer of 2023.
This land was worked continuously for over 200 years before we arrived and still has tremendous potential due to its rich clay soil. Through careful farming practices we hope to leave it even better than we found it. We are fortunate to live in an area surrounded by many successful and knowledgeable lifelong farmers and we are able to learn from them. It is wonderful to see this previously fallow farm land once again providing for our local community.