PRINCESS ANNE — Sarah Martin Done is a forgotten personality.
Once a familiar name to most residents of Princess Anne, she is now a mystery. Her life has been reduced to only a sentence or two in legal documents, yet a house built in 1823, in the center of town, is named in her honor.
It is a house seldom seen by tourists and almost unknown to most town residents. It now stands just yards from the famed historic Teackle Mansion and a few hundred feet east of U.S. 13.
When she built her home in 1823 it was on the site now occupied by the U.S. Post Office on Somerset Avenue.
A year after it was built, Done sold is, and then she exits history.
“We really don’t know anything about her,” said Sharon Upton, trustee of the Somerset County Historical Society. But her house would become an important surviving example of Federal style architecture in the community and keeps her name alive.
Over the years the house had more than a dozen owners. Among them was Catherine W. Ricketts, a co-founder of Olde Princess Anne Days (which at one time owned a section of Teackle Mansion) bought the house in 1943. In 1946, she sold it to a relative, Oscar “Babe” Wilson. It was Milbourne T. Muir who purchased the house for $1,000, from Wilson, and had it moved to its present site behind Teackle Mansion to make way for the construction of the town’s post office.
Done would have known Teackle Mansion and the Teackle family.
She had no inkling that her house would end up in their backyard, probably in a lot that was once a garden.
For years the Historical Society wanted the land, once part of the original Teackle Mansion estate.
“We wanted the property, primarily, and the house was on it. As it happened, we are very glad we got both,” Upton explained. It was a logical and fortuitous acquisition as their headquarters, Teackle Mansion, is just a few yards away.
A state bond bill, in 2001, for $235,000, she said, paid for the purchase of the property as well as lead paint abatement on the exterior.
After the purchase, Society members began holding fund-raising teas at the house.
“It is hoped that this house could be used an events center, exhibitions, rentals, to take some of the strain off the mansion, even develop a heritage center.” Upton said. “Right now we are using it as an ‘auxiliary structure’ to the mansion.”
That “auxiliary structure” is in a special place. It is virtually hidden to the world.
“A lot of other people don’t even know this house is here,” she said, smiling. “It’s just an incredible building that’s ‘tucked away.’”
Whether it is the seclusion — a nondescript narrow, grassy driveway leads from Mansion Street to the house — or the mysterious aura that houses sometimes have, the Sara Martin Done House embodies tranquility and peace.
Seated at table in one of the two large downstairs rooms, by the transverse hall, Upton had looked over the two mid-1960s black and white photo of the house.
With no air conditioning, the front door was open, allowing an abundance of light to chase shadows away and allow the warm fragrance of honeysuckle to sweeten the teasing breeze.
The setting is enhanced by a natural topographical ravine, unique in the county, between Beckford Mansion, built in 1776 and the Done House that meanders to the nearby Manokin River.
Huge trees, some with laces of vines dangling from their branches is all that can be seen. Though the living tapestry one can see patches of Beckford Mansion’s earthy brick colors across the way.
The gentle, kind and easy breeze coming from the shade trees creates a comfortable mood. Or is it simply the coziness of the two century-old room with generous multi-paned windows, the large thick paneled door or the pleasing visual accent of the chair rail molding that wraps around the walls? Whatever it is, it’s here in abundance at the Sara Martin Done House.
It feels so, well, right, exuding quality craftsmanship and architectural balance and beauty.
The chatter of bickering song birds filled the background as Upton revealed the architectural delights of this now special house. “This is simply a fabulous house,” Upton noted, “with so much original woodwork.”
And so much character, including the delicate Palladium window at the apex of the front gable, which makes a visual statement of elegance and style in glass and graceful wood muntins.
The transverse hall (which runs the length of the front width of the house with a door at each end and in the center), is like that found in Teackle Mansion.
The Done house also shares other architectural details with the famed landmark built in 1802, including the gabled front facade style so popular in the early 1800s.
The nearby Littleton-Long House, which was originally located next to the Sarah Martin Done House on Somerset Avenue, also has a transverse hall, as did the former East Glen House (now site of the Princess Anne Library), leading architectural historians to suggest some of the four houses may have had the same architect.
“There is one curious feature that has visitor asking questions,” she said, and pointed to the steps of the stairway leading to the second floor that seem to be part of a window.
It was purposely placed to achieve an architectural balance.
“So important was maintaining the exterior symmetry of the facade,” said architect Barton Ross, “that the peculiar placement of the stairway, in the middle and up against the window, was accepted.”
Ross, who recently worked as the architect of record on renovation plans for the 18th-century, architecturally-important Waddy House, near Perryhawkin, said the feature is often found in Federal-era homes throughout the Shore.
An advantage may also have been it afforded maximum dawn and evening light on the treads in the day of oil lamps and candles.
Even this now strange element seems right at home.
Forget feng shui. The aesthetically pleasing effects of the placement of rooms, a wide hall and generously sized door and windows make for an oh-so-functional and oh-so-natural setup.
“This Federal-style house is basically a sound structure, just requires work,” Upton said. “All the plumbing and electrical systems need updating. And there’s repairs to the woodwork that need attention. And we need a new kitchen and three bathrooms.”
Like historical organizations across the nation, the Society is constantly struggling to raise funds. About 14 years ago, members launched Somerset Choice Antiques Shop to generation an income to maintain the mansion and the Done House.
The shop has been the primarily fundraising arm of the society for the past 14 years.
“We pay most of the annual operating budget of the society,” she said. “Our little antiques shop raised almost $40,000 last year,” she said with pride.
“Shop business is better than ever, thanks to Kathy Washburn, former owner of historic Clifton, who restored and donated the former Texaco Station on Somerset Avenue to the Somerset County Historical Society six years ago. That is now home to our shop. She did a wonderful thing, too, by saving a landmark for the town. It was in danger of being torn down and she gave it a new life.”
It’s location helps generate sales, but is alway a struggle to keep up. Then Upton came up with a plan.
She proposed a “Somerset Choice Station Antiques Pop Up,” event, sponsored by the Somerset County Historical Society and the shop, to benefit the Done House.
It is the largest and most ambitious single event in the shop’s history, featuring over 1,000 of items, vintage and contemporary. There are handmade skipjack models, period crockery, primitive-style baskets and tables, decorating accessories by the bushel, mahogany handmade and carved chairs, wicker items, fishing tackle box from the 1940s, handmade period chests, unique “shabby chic” specialties — wooden doors, windows, architectural iron pieces, clocks and artwork.
It has taken seven volunteers three months to gather and clean items from various consignors, then “stage” nine filled with treasurers. There’s even a “Christmas room” featuring a one of a kind hand-carved and painted four-foot tall mahogany angel and a sled from the 1940s.
Shoppers will discover vintage, leather armchairs, tables — vintage and new — and fun items including a hand-carved pig and vintage decorative chamber pots or “thunder mugs.”
Special, too, is a heavy, large, brass birdcage, just right for showcasing cherished collectables, or even a feathered pet, and a new five-foot wide wooden-frame clock and an authentic rare wooden oyster shucking table from Deal Island. There is vintage agate ware, authentic Williamsburg items and household items, new and old.
“We have brought in some unique special items, too,” she said.
“There will be a huge coffee table that’s like a stack of book, and a handcrafted solid copper cupola cap that came from the former Foggy Bottom Gift Shop near here,” she said.
For discriminating tastes there’s a vintage handmade Hepplewhite inlaid hunt board from Virginia, a mother of pearl inlaid table and dovetailed blanket chests.
“I really do believe we have it all,” she said, laughing.
Both floors of the house, the back porch, as well as the yard, will be packed with goodies.
Just to get the house spiffed up for guests was a “job unto itself.” Volunteer Kevin Miskewicz has done extensive woodwork repairs as well as painting the house and fixing up some of the furniture pieces in the sale.
Upton said Somerset Choice Antiques Station Shop at 11731 Somerset Avenue will also be open the day of the pop-up day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Of course society members and volunteers are really excited about this, because we hope it will be successful, to help the Done House and lead to other pop ups here.
The Done House is located as 11724 Mansion Street in Princess Anne, and using Tackle Mansion as a landmark will help people locate us.”
Upton suggested those attending park free along nearby streets, (parking will not be allowed at the Done House), just a minute or two walk from the house. “Those buying large items will be able to drive to the Done House to get their merchandise, and we will have volunteers on hand to help them load things,” Upton said.
Arrangements, too, can be made with buyers to pick up large items the day after the sale from noon until 4 p.m.
The event is set for Sept. 18, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Upton requested there be no “early birds,” before the 9 a.m. opening.
“And this is a rain or shine event,” Upton said. “We will be following covid safety recommendations and, for everyone’s safety, Upton said, masks will be required.
Additional details about the event can be obtained by following Somerset Choice Station Antiques on Facebook, or though their website somersetchoicestation.org, as well as the society’s website, somersetcountyhistoricalsociety.org.
Upton said folks may also call the shop at 410-651-2238 for assistance.