The Steiner House at Patrick and Jefferson streets is one of the best-preserved domestic buildings dating to the first quarter of the 19th century in the county. Although the property is just outside downtown Frederick, its setting was initially part of the western outskirts of town, an area that has taken on several names over the years, including Stephensburg, Ratsburg, Battletown and Bentztown. The building holds value because it retains much of its historic character inside and out, which helps illustrate important aspects of home life and architectural design in early Frederick.
Stephen Steiner (1767-1829), who served as a justice to the Levy Court, a council member to his ward, and a tax commissioner, built the house in 1807. He is the grandson of Jacob Steiner (1713-1748), who built the Mill Pond House around 1748. Comparing the two residences provides insight on how German home building evolved. Although the Mill Pond House is in a state ruins, it is well-documented and considered one of the earliest homes in Frederick. The Mill Pond House was built of stone and half-timber framing, a design derived from traditional East German or Palatinate building styles. The home was fenestrated with irregularly placed windows and doors, featured a centrally placed chimney and housed a vaulted cellar with built-in niches, all reflective of early American-German home construction.
By the turn of the century, many German families were second- or third-generation Americans, like Stephen Steiner. This generation pursued a different building tradition than their forefathers. As German cultural traditions weakened, the German-American houses reflected a growing acceptance of Anglo-American building traditions, which included exterior symmetry, aspects of interior design and room function.
Steiner House was constructed in two major building campaigns — 1807 and 1817 — although a small addition and auxiliary structure were built later. The earlier part of the house is set back from the street and is built in brick with simple jack arches over the evenly spaced windows and doors. It is a typical vernacular home for its period, with little German influence. Perhaps the most significant German feature is the two exterior doors set close together, one leading to the kitchen and the other to the dining room.
The original kitchen of Steiner House remains remarkably intact. It still features a large cooking fireplace and original cabinets. The dining room boasts a simple but elegant fireplace. The stunning preservation of the 1807 house is often overshadowed by the large, high-style addition that was added to the north, redirecting the primary facade to face West Patrick Street. This portion of Stephen Steiner’s home is a departure from the more rusticated, vernacular home of his grandfather.
The 1817 addition to the Steiner house epitomizes good taste and architectural design of the early 19th century. The new main entry of the house is stylized with an elliptical fanlight with sidelights, a common feature on Federal style buildings. What makes the entry windows truly unique is the finely crafted lead caming forming a flower and pineapple design, a symbol of hospitality. The formal entry hallway features a lofty fluted arch and an elegant staircase. This level of craftsmanship is carried through to the front parlor. However, as public space transitions into private rooms, the level of detail is simplified.
Over its long history, only three families owned Steiner House. In 1945, when the city of Frederick was celebrating its bicentennial, the Historical Society of Frederick County acquired the property for its headquarters. In 1962, the Frederick Woman’s Civic Club bought Steiner House. This organization has been a careful steward of the property and offers tours to the public. If you would like to learn more about the history of the property, the Woman’s Civic Club is offering tours from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the second Saturday of the months of October, November, December, April and May.
Send your questions and comments to PreservationMatters@cityoffrederick.com.