Scientific Research Uncovers One of Western Maryland's Oldest Structures
Dendrochronology confirms 417 N. Jonathan Street in Hagerstown built with 18th-century timbers
The report found that the timbers used in the historic structure were felled (i.e. cut down) in the winter of 1739-40 and 1740-41. The research was summarized in a technical report by the Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory, a scientific historical research firm based out of Baltimore. The researchers confirmed the date of the logs' felling using dendrochronology, a process that can date a log's date of felling by using the characteristic patterns of annual growth rings in timber and tree trunks. Core samples from logs in the cabin were taken in September 2020 and were compared against a master tree-ring sample for the region.
The process was also is able to identify the region of felling. The new report notes "the sampled timbers matched particularly highly with reference chronologies from Washington and Frederick Counties in central Maryland. Its highest match…was with a log house that formerly sat on the banks of the Antietam River in Hagerstown, suggesting that the original log house these timbers were cut from was in all probability standing somewhere in Hagerstown before being demolished and reused for the log cabin at 417 Jonathan Street."
Very few structures stood in Hagerstown in 1739, save for two cabins built by town founder Jonathan Hager in the late 1730s prior to the completion of his stone dwelling. The date of Hager's construction and the likelihood that a Hager heir owned the plot of land at 417 N. Jonathan Street around the period of the current cabin's construction (ca. 1830s) seems to suggest the potential that these logs once housed Hager himself – making the structure one of Hagerstown's most historic.
Remarkably, all of this could have been lost as the cabin was headed to demolition before Preservation Maryland deployed emergency funding to acquire and now rehabilitate the building and secure its future. Preservation Maryland is actively working on the rehabilitation of the property through the organization's Revolving Fund.
Nicholas Redding, Executive Director of Preservation Maryland, underscored the value of the research, explaining, "The legacy of this building and its layers of unique, diverse, and significant history speaks to the value of preservation – and the need to continue to invest and support the revitalization of the historic Jonathan Street community."