Natalie W. Shivers
500, Asbury Road, Churchville, Harford County
Webster's Forest is a stone house constructed in two sections. The pre-1800 eastern section stands three bays wide, 1 1/2 stories tall above a high basement, with a gambrel roof. Its interior exhibits a side-hall plan, two rooms deep, with a corner fireplace in each room. Despite severe damage by fire in 1966, exterior walls, chimney, floor structures, most of the flooring, and portions of the cornice of this section remains original. An exterior basement entrance retains its original oak strap hinges. Original interior detailing includes exposed second floor joists with ovolo-planed edges, and second-story floorboards beaded on their undersides. An early 19th century fireplace surround survives in one of the second-floor rooms. The two-bay, gable-roofed west addition appears to date from the second quarter of the 19th century; due to falling grade, its ground story is at the same level as the basement of the east section, and its two upper stories coincide with the two floors of the older part. The ground story retains a wide cooking fireplace which features an iron crane and "beehive" oven. Above the kitchen, the dining room on the first floor retains virtually all its original details, including paneled doors flanking the chimney, opening into a china closet and former dumbwaiter. Original architrave trim and fireplace surround also survive. On the second floor, two original doors remain.
Webster's Forest is significant for its architecture, which reflects the combined influence of disparate vernacular traditions. The gambrel-roofed form of the older section is generally associated with the 18th century architecture of the Tidewater region in Maryland, and is highly unusual in Piedmont Harford County. The house incorporates elements of the architectural tradition of nearby southeastern Pennsylvania in its corner fireplace, beehive oven, fine stonework, and siting against a partially excavated earthen bank. Documentary and architectural evidence tends to confirm local tradition that the gambrel-roofed section of Webser's Forest is the earliest building extant in Harford County. The beehive oven in the c. 1835-1850 section is unique in the county. Despite extensive damage by fire in 1966, the house retains considerable integrity, exhibiting numerous architectural features including its original form, exterior walls, fireplaces and oven, floor framing, much of its flooring, and trim, particularly in the dining room on the second floor of the gable-roofed section. Replacement work which followed the fire, while not a precise restoration, remains compatible with the period and style of the building.