“I’m familiar with the place,” he said, noting that he graduated from Boonsboro High School at the same time as did Mike Stiles, one of the Stiles’ sons, and used to visit when the two were growing up.
“The house is definitely mid-19th century,” Dennis Frye said.
Seven or eight years ago, when he went back to the property, he took a close look at the old barn and saw clear evidence that it, like the house, was built in the 1800s.
“All the wood in the barn was ratchet-sawed, meaning there was no circular saw marks in any of that wood,” Dennis Frye said. “A ratchet saw is kind of a straight-up saw. It uses vertical motion to cut wood in a sawmill.”
Builders began using the circular saw after it was invented in the late 1800s, he said.
In addition, Dennis Frye said, he saw that the barn was built with “nothing but hand-cut square nails. There was nothing from the latter part of the 19th century in that. The outbuildings are mid-19th century, too.”
So, it’s likely that the house and barn were there on Sept. 14, 1862, when troops of the North and South engaged in a major battle at Fox’s Gap, not more than a mile and a half east on the old road, both Fryes said.
On that day, Union and Confederate troops clashed at three gaps along South Mountain — Fox’s Gap, where the heaviest fighting took place, at Turner’s Gap a mile to the north and at Crampton’s Gap about seven miles to the south, John Frye said.
The Confederates held the Union army off for “a full day at all three passes, but they had to retreat to what they did over at Sharpsburg,” he said, referring to the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. “It was the first time the Army of Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee ever retreated.”
That means that all of the Confederates pulling back from Fox’s Gap “retreated by that building,” Dennis Frye said, referring to the log farmhouse. “And, (Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose) Burnside’s Union 9th Corps pursued via that route.”
The battle’s significance has left a lasting reminder on the old road itself. Its name was changed to Reno Monument Road in recognition of Maj. Gen. Jesse Reno, a Union officer who was killed at Fox’s Gap, and the monument erected there in his memory in 1899.
Clean up and knock down?
What will happen to the old farmstead now seems largely a foregone conclusion amid the nation’s ongoing economic climate.
Like many of the 3 million or more properties foreclosed on in America since the recession began in 2007, the old farmstead likely will be offered for sale at public auction.
Sheri Anne Stewart, who bought the property in March 2007 for $399,000 but then couldn’t sell her Sharpsburg home as she’d planned, was far behind in paying on the loan by 2009, according to interviews and Washington County Circuit Court records.
After she moved out and won bankruptcy protection from her debts in 2010, the Reno Monument Road property began deteriorating. Neighbors said someone ripped aluminum siding from large parts of the house, exposing green shingles and the old clapboard, and wires were torn out and noxious weeds began taking over its fields.
“Every time you go by, somebody has dumped something” on the property, neighbor Jimmy Hartle said. “It’s become the dump for the neighborhood.”
Dennis Frye said the property was never that way when the Stiles family had it.
“The Stiles(es) used to keep it in immaculate condition when they owned it,” he said.