Schifferstadt Architectural Museum in Frederick, Maryland is not a typical museum in the least. I was expecting to walk in and find reproduction and period piece furnishings but what I saw was the deconstructed skeleton of one of the finest examples of German-style colonial architecture in the United States.
I use the word “deconstructed” because the intent of Schifferstadt Architectural Museum is not to show things as they were when the home was built in 1758, but rather to show how the home was built.
And that means its guts are exposed.
Sounds crazy, right? I promise you… it’s fascinating!
Schifferstadt Architectural Museum
Let’s start with a little history.
The original log home was built by Joseph and Catharina Brunner, German immigrants who were wooed to the wilderness of Pennsylvania and Maryland at the prospect of cheap land and a better life.
After years of indentured servantry to pay back the cost of their entire family’s voyage, they settled in Frederick, built a log house and began farming the land. They named it Schifferstadt after their home town in Germany. At some point, Joseph sold the home to his son Elias who decided to build a “proper home” – the stone manor house we now know as Schifferstadt Architectural Museum.
There are many indications of wealth to be seen in Schifferstadt – the most obvious being that it’s a stone house. That alone would require master masons with crews of five or six people. The stone walls were two feet thick – incredibly impressive.
Technically, there were two walls, one inside the other, and the space between them was filled with stone chips and mortar. Window openings had to be splayed because the walls were so thick.
As was German tradition, the parents’ bedroom was on the first floor. Look at the wall safe with its fancy ram’s horn hinges, another indication of wealth.
The cupboards (below) had rat tail hinges and the blue paint is thought to be the original paint color.
Interior walls were always painted white to help reflect natural light during the day and candlelight at night.
This is the center hall and front door where you can get a really good luck at the German-style construction techniques. Massive 40-foot oak beams went from one side of the house to the other. The joists rested on top of them and a lath and plaster technique was used for finishing. The walls were post-and-beam construction and gaps were filled with brick nog. It’s incredible!
There were two fireplaces in Schifferstadt, one of which had been plastered over. Thankfully they discovered it!
Cooking was done with a small fire in an open hearth. They’d get varying degrees of heat according to where they hung their pots.
What looks like a trough is actually a sink carved from a single piece of stone! Where you see the styrofoam strip was a gap through which the sink waste water was flushed out of the kitchen, down the spout and outside. Fascinating!
Heading upstairs, you’ll notice the spiral staircase demonstrates the German desire to not waste space (English staircases were straight). Notice how rock solid the construction is; you won’t hear a single creak when you walk up the steps (unless it’s your bones).
And upstairs takes you to Schifferstadt’s most distinctive feature – a five plate stove- the only one in the world that remains where it was originally installed. There were two other German stoves in the home as well, but this is the sole survivor.
If you look closely, you can see the year of 1758 on the cast iron box. The decorative elements also include a German bible verse which translates to “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.”
The stove is a treasure!
The stove was fed through a fireplace opening in the hall and the heat radiated into both bedrooms. Radiant heat was something only the Germans were doing at that time and it was very energy efficient.
I couldn’t resist going up into the attic (in spite of the fact it was August and brutally hot) to see the chimney, but it was worth it. Isn’t that something?
Next, we went back downstairs and into the summer kitchen, which is believed to have been the site of the original log house. It sits below the gift shop.
Adjacent to the summer kitchen was a barrel-vaulted cellar for anything that needed refrigeration, such as apples, sauerkraut, milk, cheese and eggs. They also hung salted and smoked meats in this room, and the ventilation kept it cold.
And just before leaving, we got to take a peek at this fabulous squirrel tail bake oven which was part of the original log cabin home!
Visiting the Shifferstadt Architectural Museum was the biggest hidden gem of our weekend trip to Frederick, MD. I highly recommend taking a tour!
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Address: 1110 Rosemont Avenue, Frederick, Maryland 21701
Hours: Closed for winter. Reopens April 13, 2019 on Saturdays and Sundays
Tours: Docent-led tours are available. (I highly recommend it!)
Admission: $5 donation
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