Life Cycle of a House
A house that was built, expanded, abandoned, and dismantled over two centuries.
Little remains above ground from the Chiles Homesite, except the complex and picturesque chimney. The house was originally constructed with wood-framed walls and two first-floor rooms, a hall and a parlor. The only door was flanked by two windows. A double chimney, still standing, provided two fireplaces on the ground floor and one upstairs. Wood from the original fireplace mantles can still be seen in the chimney remains.
Photo right: This is how the front of the house looked in the mid-19th century. The Reverend Chiles, the owner, expanded the house with a two-story addition (on the right half of the drawing). Porches also were added. Only the double chimney and brick foundation remain today.
A two-story addition was added to the house during the Chiles occupation to provide additional space for the large family. The addition nearly doubled the size of the house and at the same time new clapboard was added to the exterior and the roof re-shingled. A porch was added to the new section of the house to compliment porches added to the older section sometime between1800-1820. A smaller, single-stack chimney was provided in the addition for heating both the upper and lower rooms.
Despite the eventual decline, decay, and ruination of the structure, we do know something of its interior appearance. During the 1950s architectural historian Henry Chandlee Forman recorded the exterior dimensions and floor plan. He also noted a built-in corner buffet in the great room and a neoclassical transom above an interior doorway. Later, in 1974, another architectural historian, J. Richard Rivioire, visited the house. By this time, only the chimneys and six walls were standing. However, Rivoire was able to discern architectural elements that refined our knowledge of the local design styles. From his work we know that the exterior features of the original house mimic the formal "Georgian" styles favored by Charles County’s elite of the late 18th and early 19th century. On the interior, however, a more folk-traditional, or "vernacular," approach was taken, with wood paneling instead of plaster, and exposed rather than concealed beams. This interesting mix of high and low-status architecture architecture is potentially very revealing of the home’s occupants and their social ambitions.
Photos below (left to right): 1. Interior wall and doorway photographed by Rivoire in 1974 (1990:107). 2. Composite of sketches made while much of the house was still standing in 1955 (Forman 1956) 3. Floor plan showing original ca. 1790 portion and additions made ca. 1855 (Rivoire 1974a:Figure 8).
Outside, the house was surrounded by supporting structures. A large depression to the left of the house marks where an icehouse was constructed. Likely dating to the early period of the house, the icehouse was a large brick-lined hole in the ground with walls and a roof built over it. Blocks of ice cut from frozen winter ponds would have been stacked in here and covered with straw and/or sawdust to slow the melting process. The icehouse provided for cold storage of food as well as a constant source of ice for household use year round.
No doubt, the Shepard and Chiles periods required more external architecture than simply a house and an icehouse. Riviore note several outbuildings in his 1974 work, including a possible kitchen, smokehouse, granary, and slave quarters for the 14 enslaved African Americans. However, by the time Rivoire visited the site the former fields were overgrown and had become mature forest, concealing many of the original landscape features.