Photo credit: Susan M. Deeney , 03/1977

Property Name: Olney Farm
Date Listed: 7/9/1987
Inventory No.: HA-154
Location: 1001, Old Joppa Road, Joppa, Harford County

Description: Olney, originally patented as Prospect, is a 264-acre working pony farm. The tract contains a collection of 15 structures whose range in style, use, and elegance of design is unsurpassed in Harford County, and are rare anywhere in Maryland. The main building on the property is a 2 1/2-story brick house generally called "the mansion." Begun in 1810 as a typical five-bay, Flemish bond, center-hall I house with a lower kitchen wing to the south, and continuously dynamic for six generations, this house was evolved into a museum of Maryland architecture incorporating a c. 1850 formal parlor across the rear (east) and a summer kitchen to the south off the 1810 kitchen. These relatively ordinary shells have been embellished by high-style additions salvaged from demolished buildings in Baltimore and Philadelphia, including c. 1815 paneling from the Isaac Van Bibber house in Fells Point, Baltimore, the marble Ionic portico from William Small's c. 1830 Baltimore Athenaeum at Charles and Franklin Streets, Baltimore, and a marble bas-relief plaque designed by Pierre L'Enfant for Robert Morris's great 1795 house in Philadelphia. Surrounding, and clearly subservient to, this wonderful assemblage is the patentee's early 18th century, 2 1/2-story stone dwelling and a variety of still-functioning farm structures that in themselves range in style from simple stone stables and frame hay barns to an unusual two-story brick blacksmith's shop with gutter pilasters and a Palladian window, whose appearance is the result of a 1914 remodeling. In addition, a one-story frame gable-roofed structure, built in 1914 as the Union Chapel School, was moved onto the property in 1980 and re-outfitted as St. Alban's Anglican Church.

Significance: The significance of Olney is derived primarily from the architectural character of the complex and association with J. Alexis Shriver (1872-1951), a man prominent in local and state historical and agricultural matters who lived at Olney from 1890 until his death. This 264-acre working farm, in continuous use and with virtually unchanged boundaries since the American Revolution, contains an assemblage of buildings which together form a 200-year history of area architecture. These range from a simple stone house probably erected by the tract's patentee in the early/mid 18th century to an 1810 5-bay Flemish bond brick I house, as well as the rich variety of outbuildings traditionally associated with Maryland agricultural pursuits. In addition, during the first quarter of the 20th century, Shriver brought to and installed at Olney a remarkable collection of material saved from historic buildings in the region. These rescued bit are, generally, all that remain of these fine buildings and have turned Olney into a living museum of the building art. Further, all the houses and outbuildings are united visually and functionally by a complex system of farm roads and service lanes and are set off by landscaping which ranges from a formal boxwood allee on axis with the main house's center hall and ancient cedars lining the driveway, to picturesque clumps of specimen trees and rambling paths, to vegetable and cutting gardens. Most of these landscaping features date from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Shriver, an amateur scientist, introduced agricultural advancements to Harford County, particularly the use of electricity, and wrote a series of pamphlets for the U.S. Commerce Department on a variety of agricultural subjects. Shriver is also noted, and possibly most recognized, for his research and publication on local history and historic preservation matters on the state level.




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