Built of rudimentary log construction for the area’s first settler, the James Drane House is emblematic of the pioneering era within the Allegheny Mountains of western Maryland. It is believed to be the oldest standing structure in what is now Garrett County, formed from Allegheny County in 1872. Construction of the Drane House predates that of the Cumberland Road, located about five or six miles from the house, which was authorized in 1806 to replace the rutted wagon road and footpath known as the Braddock Road (1755), although it follows much of the same path. The Cumberland Road was quickly subsumed by the National Road (1811–1818), the first federal highway, which opened up western Maryland to increased settlement, tracing a pattern of development that is still visible on the landscape.
The Drane House is an intact survivor of the type of dwelling built by the early settlers. Log houses were easily and quickly erected from indigenous materials, requiring only minimal building skills. In addition, log dwellings generally rested on stone piers, eliminating the need to excavate for a foundation. The Drane House was constructed as a two room, hall-and-parlor plan dwelling to which was later added an additional room to create the current 43-foot-long structure. James Drane was a tobacco farmer from Prince George's County, Maryland, who attempted to introduce tobacco culture to this region, purchasing the property from his brother-in-law in 1798. However, the mountainous terrain, cold climate, and lack of viable markets and transportation routes thwarted his efforts. While the nearby town of Accident was first surveyed for Lord Baltimore in 1774, the area remained largely unsettled until the 1840s with the influx of German settlers. Population growth was further facilitated by the coming of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad through this region in the 1850s; in fact, Garrett County was named for the railroad’s president, John W. Garrett.
The Drane House is a true one-and-a-half-story dwelling built of hewn logs held by V-notch joints with chinking used to fill the gaps between the logs. V-notching derived from simpler saddle notching that was generally used when logs were left round rather than hewn to create a tighter fit and neater appearance. Saddle notching also created an overhang that generally precluded the application of siding. More sophisticated V-shaped notching allowed the logs to fit more snugly into one another and the ends to be cut flush. The plain weatherboard siding that once protected the exterior of the house has since been removed. Other features include a side-gabled roof, six-over-six sash windows, and a large exterior stone chimney at one end.
The original hall-and-parlor plan section was erected circa 1800, either by James Drane or by his brother-in-law, Colonel William Lamar, who purchased the property in 1778. The plan is somewhat unusual in that the entry and original stairway (since removed) are located in the smaller “parlor” rather than the larger multipurpose “hall” section. The hall to the western end is heated by a large open hearth fireplace that was also used for cooking. It was separated from the smaller parlor section by a vertical beaded-board partition wall. A single-cell addition was made to the eastern end shortly afterwards. It consists of an open room with a stair and pantry to the inside wall. The half-story above follows the same plan and is lit by a single floor-level window located to the center of the front facade and by a window in each gable end. The Drane House was purchased by the City of Accident in 1987 as a key landmark in the early history of western Maryland. It was restored and opened to the public in 1994.
Ridout, Orlando, V., “James Drane House,” Garrett County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1983. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Kniffen, Fred, and Henry Glassie. “Building in Wood in the Eastern United States: A Time-Place Perspective.” The Geographical Review56, no. 1(January 1966): 40-66.
Scholsnagle, Stephen et al. Garrett County: A History of Maryland’s Tableland. Parsons, WV: McClain Printing Company, 1978.