Photo credit: David Harp , 04/2006

Property Name: Handsell
Date Listed: 2/26/2008
Inventory No.: D-127
Location: Indiantown Road, Vienna, Dorchester County

Description: Handsell, also known as the Webb House, is a late 18th century brick house bearing the name of a 1665 land grant; the original 484-acre land grant has been in the Webb family since 1892. The house is a fine example of a late 18th century Georgian style manor house. It is a brick structure, 1 1/2 stories over an English basement. The 40’3” x 20’11” house was built on a tall basement, 6’6” from grade to the ovolo-molded water table. The south facade, laid in Flemish bond, is five bays wide and has a central entrance containing a double door flanked by windows; the brickwork in this area projects from the wall surface by about four inches to suggest a pavilion. The windows on the south facade have been reduced in width by about four inches and the original jack arches have been replaced with crude flat arches, the brickwork of which is not as fine at the original. The secondary elevations are laid in common bond, the east gable having a string course. There is an interior chimney in both gables and a single dormer on either slope of the gable roof. The east and west gables have two small windows flanking the chimneys. Although the back (north) of the building is five bays long on the first story, there are only three bays below. The rear facade is all on a single plane, laid in common bond without the water table. The interior retains a fair amount of original fabric including an early fireplace surround which has been removed to a protected site for restoration. The plan of the first and second floors consists of a central stair passage with two flanking rooms. Each of the two rooms on the first story contains a fireplace on the gable wall, one of which retains an original Federal period mantel. Ceilings in the first-floor rooms measure 11’ high. On the second story there is a structure in the west room which was a fireplace, but its hearth is approximately 2 1/2 feet above the floor. The east room chimney rises through the room approximately one foot from the gable wall. The west side of the basement originally housed the kitchen, as evidenced by a cooking fireplace and the remains of a beehive oven, reputedly the only surviving oven of its kind on the Eastern Shore. The remainder of the basement was divided into two smaller rooms. A fire in the early 19th century required some exterior rebuilding to the rear and end walls, and the interior woodwork appears to date from the period 1810-20. A small one-story shed was built adjoining the east gable early in the 20th century to house the office of the farm overseer. There was no communication between it and the main block. It did not contribute to the significance of the site and has since been removed.

Significance: Handsell is significant for its architecture, as an example of a substantial manor house of the late 18th century. Its form, 1 1/2 stories over a raised basement, is unusual in the region. The house retains evidence of a kitchen in the basement which apparently did not communicate directly with the upper story, a rare plan feature; the remnant of a beehive oven is also noteworthy. Some rebuilding of exterior walls, and interior finishes dating from c. 1810-20, reflect the effects of a fire in the early 19th century. The house has remained vacant for some 70 years, but despite deterioration and vandalism retains sufficient integrity to inform a comprehensive and accurate restoration.




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