Meet Wade Warfield – Scraps from a Lifetime
When you get down to it, Wade H.D. Warfield is the most impressive and important character in Sykesville’s history. But for the most part, no one knows him.
It’s sort of like living in Philadelphia and having no idea who Ben Franklin is or William Penn. So I thought I would fix that.
There’s not a lot of information about him, so it took time and detective work, and I’m still not finished. I still don’t know the answer to the ultimate mystery. What went wrong? But for now, here’s the story. It’s an advanced draft, if not the final, and hopefully someday, it will be part of a book about Sykesville.
Once you read it, you’ll have a whole new insight into Main Street and the history of the town and the three tallest and most impressive buildings in town. The buildings with the word Warfield on them are his. The complex of old hospital buildings across the way are not, and that complex is not named for him, although it helped make him rich, and he was long associated with it.
Here are a few thoughts, anecdotes, and photos left over from the project.
This is Raincliffe. It’s owned by the state and right across the street from the new Raincliffe housing development near Freedom Park.
Warfield grew up in a mansion on these grounds. When he lived there it was called Chihuahua. Horace Jefferson, one of Sykesville’s former mayors, changed the name to Raincliffe in honor of his family’s estate in England when he took over the mansion. So that housing development over there is actually named after a British estate.
Warfield’s first wife, Blanche, died at 29, shortly after giving birth to their third daughter. Her grave sat in the family plot in Springfield a long time before Warfield himself was buried. There’s a huge flat stone over her grave, and there are bricks propping it up. The stone has been there since 1895.
Somehow I didn’t notice it at the time, but I took a picture of Warfield’s grave and there was a small chunk of brick on it right at the O in October. Maybe a mower threw it there. That lawn’s been mowed thousands of times since Warfield’s death. Currently, the man doing the mowing is Jeff Sandosky, whose dad, a marine who landed on Iwo Jima during World War II, is an important figure in the more recent history of Sykesville.
Warfield had three daughters. His oldest daughter kept a scrapbook that’s in the Sykesville Gate House Museum of History. Although I wrote very little about the middle daughter, Helen, there is a picture of her in the scrapbook. She married a military officer and here she is.
Helen was born in 1893. This is a staged portrait against a fake background probably taken around 1920. Unfortunately it’s been ripped. It’s likely that all his daughters were quite pretty. There’s a picture of daughter Josephine from the same scrapbook in our story, as well as a picture of the five Waterhouse daughters from West Virginia. Warfield married two of them. One gave birth to his daughters, but the other raised them.
There’s also a collection of Warfield family photos in the museum. They’re not labeled in any way, so it’s impossible to say with certainty who is who in some cases, especially among the women, but you can be sure this is Wade Warfield. He was a very fancy dresser. He liked hats and paid particular attention to his mustache.
This big house is also in the Warfield photo album. I don’t know if it’s Chihuahua in some early manifestation, or perhaps the home of his wife’s family. It bears very little resemblance to Raincliffe, but I haven’t investigated this.
This is the E. M. Mellor store taken in 1910, I believe. Mellor was a friend of Warfield, and the store was quite massive. Everything you see here was part of the store.
Here’s a bit of the same structure today. It looks nice, and I actually saw some Pennsylvania Dutch, or men who strongly resembled them, with their beards and hats, working on the siding a few months ago. They looked like people from the past, older even than the building they were repairing.
This next building, originally constructed as a bank to compete with Warfield’s, has served many purposes over the years, but as a bank it did not last very long. Howard Smith, who hangs out at the history museum and has lived here his entire life (he even has his own road off Obrecht called Smith’s Private Road), says they referred to this as “the people’s bank,” perhaps because it lent money to people that Warfield would not.
When interviewing Warren Dorsey, whose African American family lived up on the hill behind the bank near where the Colored Schoolhouse is today, he told me that when his father wanted a loan to buy some land, he could not get a loan in Sykesville, but eventually secured one in Hampstead, I believe. So it’s likely that Warfield was selective in his lending and probable that he did not lend to blacks.
Howard Smith also told me that his father, who was a contemporary of Warfield, thought that Warfield was a good guy, but that not everyone thought so. Of course, great success often breeds great resentment.
Today the building houses a high-tech graphics company. For awhile it housed the town’s Mayor, Lloyd Helt, who had his law offices in there during the eighties.
In the story, I talk about the fire that almost engulfed Dr. Sprecher’s house. Sprecher was a town mayor and he was the town doctor for many years. I believe there are still residents in the town who were delivered by him. These are the steps to his house.
Part of the foundation and a railing are also there. Warfield never rebuilt his mill on the site right across from the house after the fire, but someone else constructed a soap stone mill there. That mill is now used by Southern States, but during its heyday it produced a lot of dust.
The man who sold the house and the land to Jonathan Herman asked the town to do something about the dust. When they wouldn’t, and since the landlord couldn’t rent it out, he purposely let the old house fall into decay. When Herman purchased it, the house, which started life as one of Brown’s cottages, showed signs of beauty, but was so deteriorated and dangerous they had to knock it down. In a sense, you might say these steps are all that survived an act of spite.
Any town with a long history is going to have a lot of stories. It’s the stories and the buildings with their stories that add to the richness of the town’s heritage. And maybe that’s why it’s worth preserving as much of that history as we can. Maybe that’s what makes the place special and gives it something you might call soul, something a place like Eldersburg with a Walmart at its heart, can never duplicate.
Someone who doesn’t know any better might see a pair of old steps where Sprecher’s house once stood and say rip them out, but those steps were walked by hundreds of Sykesville’s sick, and pregnant, and needy, and once those steps stood at the precipice of a great burning disaster that brought the whole town to the doctor’s rescue.
Lessons in Fire
Just days before Warfield’s mill burned down, the Sykesville Herald warned the town that it was in danger of a disastrous fire. The mill burned down and the town did nothing to prevent another fire. Three years later, there was another fire on Main Street, and the wind saved the town, and again the town did nothing.
Finally, after the huge old Hugg Mansion just across the river on the Howard side burned down in 1933, the town decided to do something about it and pulled together enough money for a single fire engine. It wasn’t easy. The depression was on and the town was poor.
Then in 1937 this happened.
That’s Main Street, Sykesville. And so is this, below. And most of these trucks and firemen came from other towns.
The building on the left in the foreground was the fire station, directly beside the fire, but they were undermanned, unlucky, and not sufficiently prepared to control the blaze. The main problem, though, was that the hydrant they needed to put out the fire was clogged and they had to pump water directly from the river.
When the high school caught fire some twenty years later, the firemen arrived on time. They might have saved it, but there was no fire hydrant across the street from the school, so they wasted valuable time hooking up through Springfield Hospital, and then it was too late.
The town government had actually taken a vote on installing a hydrant by the school not long before the fire took place and by one vote decided they’d rather save the money. And so the fairly young high school burned. Fortunately no students were in it at the time or a few dollars saved might have been a few lives lost.
Wade Warfield is long gone, but he’s also still here. He was a man who set goals then found ways to make them happen. In the end, somehow, he took it too far.
Please find some time and read the story. It’s long, but the town is old.