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Exeter is among the best preserved early-nineteenth-century vernacular dwellings in Caroline County, and the earliest existing building in the Federalsburg vicinity. It was erected in two distinct sections (possibly built within a close timeframe) that represent a period in domestic design when hall-and-parlor plans were replaced by more formal ones. At Exeter, the earlier one-and-a-half-story section to the rear is less detailed and its simple two-room, center-chimney plan was more in keeping with the typical vernacular dwellings of the region. The later two-story, three-bay main block includes sophisticated Federal details and its side-hall-and-parlor plan added a formal parlor and a separate entry and stair hall to the otherwise multipurpose early house, now relegated to kitchen and service space.
The house is believed to have been built by Abraham Lewis, a planter who owned this tract, referred to as “Exeter,” since 1777; he sold it to James B. Robbins in 1808. It is possible that Lewis built the earlier section (for himself or a tenant), while Robbins built the latter as his own more upscale residence, adopting the old house as his service ell. At the same time that Robbins purchased Exeter, he also acquired the Exeter Mill once located across the street from the house. The two properties remained connected until 1854 and hence this dwelling was sometimes referred to as the Mill House.
Situated on the outskirts of Federalsburg, the main block of Exeter faces onto the Old Denton Road, beyond which lies Marshy Hope Creek. It is a two-story, single-pile, wood-frame dwelling covered with cypress shingles, another feature that distinguishes it from the section to the rear, which is covered with beaded weatherboards. Its most distinguishing feature is the decorative entryway located to the south side of the front facade, which consists of sidelights with shutters and a transom flanked by consoles supporting a full pediment; there is also reeding around the door frame and a punch-and-gouge frieze. Other features of note are the house’s original six-over-nine sash windows and the exposed brick back of the chimney on the first story of the north side. This formal hall-and-parlor plan section includes decorative interior elements as well, such as an open string stair with delicate balustrade and turned newels, multipart door and window surrounds, and a mantel ornamented with a sunburst design, fluted pilasters, and punch-and-gouge work.
The principle south-facing facade of the rear, one-story, four-bay addition includes separate entries into each of its two rooms, which are located to either side of a center chimney that provides a fireplace in both rooms. In this section the trim is plainer and the ceilings reveal exposed beaded joists and floorboards. Paneling in the room that adjoins the main block was taken from a house in nearby Smithville known as Liden’s Adventure. The other room in this section includes a stair to the second floor or half story.
Exeter is currently owned and maintained by the Federalsburg Historical Society and remains intact and in good condition.
Bourne, Michael. “Exeter,” Caroline County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1976. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
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