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.

Mellor's store today

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.

The Rise and Fall of Wade Warfield and Other Calamities – Part 1

The Rise and Fall of Wade Warfield and Other Calamities – Part 2

14 Comments on this post.

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  • Anne white
    5 December 2012 at 11:54 pm - Reply


  • Erin Boline
    8 December 2012 at 9:46 am - Reply

    Great read, Jack. Thanks! We love learning about the history of this town which we have lived in for only 12 years. We live on Mellor Ave. and have been told that the house we live in was built by Mayor Mellor for his daughter, but we have no way to verify that. We do have some old photos of our house, but we have no idea who the people are in the photos. It’s fun finding out these neat old stories – like the stairs. I have walked/run by those stairs many times and wondered what used to be there. Thanks again!

    • Jack White
      8 December 2012 at 10:36 am - Reply

      Thanks, Erin. Hopefully a few more people will read it. Mellor was friends with Warfield and I could probably find out a lot more about him. But I’m a little spent on the subject for the moment. Try to get other people to read the story. And press the like button everywhere you can. šŸ™‚

  • Kathy Gambrill
    9 December 2012 at 9:32 am - Reply

    What a great read. I like your writing style, it takes us right back to those early days of Sykesville. Our “I Remember That…” group visited many of these places in Sykesville. You tie them all together very nicely. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of Mr. Warfield and “his story”. Is there a print version availabe? I know many that would enjoy this story but do not have a computer. Thank you, Jack.

    • Jack White
      9 December 2012 at 12:55 pm - Reply

      Hi Kathy,

      Thanks. I’ll do something about making a print version available. I don’t know what yet, but I’m thinking about it.


  • Connie McKay
    9 December 2012 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Jack. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece about Wade Warfield. I couldn’t stop until I finished both parts and the extra facts and pictures. This seems to have been a real labor of love for you. You captured the man, (as much as he would allow), the history and the changing times of our little town of Sykesville. I will definitely recommend this to others.

    • Jack White
      9 December 2012 at 9:38 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Connie. I’m happy when someone reads it and likes it. This one is getting off to kind of a slow start as far as readers go. It’s tough competing with football and lost cats. Some day I’ll maybe spend more time trying to figure out how he lost all his money, but for now it’s time to move on.

  • Brian Fitzsimmons
    8 January 2013 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Great read!

    ps I love ur new album also.

    • Jack White
      8 January 2013 at 4:09 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Brian. Not many people seem to realize that I’m also a major league rock star.

    21 January 2013 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    I’m not sure which branch of the Warfield family this pertained to, but my grandmother , Adelle Guy Wilson, worked for a Warfield family as a girl. One of her jobs was to trim the wicks of the oil lamps thruout the big house they owned. My grandmother died in March of 2009, just shy of her 100th birthday.
    She recounted to me, that the day my mother was born, Mrs Warfield was sure Adelle must be deathly ill because she did not come to work in the house….and when she was told that my Mom was born, she responded that the ‘teller’ must mean my grandmother’s mother.
    In the days when women kept having children from early to late in their lives, their daughters often had children the same age, and in a time when personal stuff was fairly quiet and not pronounced to everyone, and women wore long full dresses and aprons, they could be in a family way and no one knew. In retrospect, I imagine that they also secretly hoped that the baby would be born alive and live long enough to be celebrated. Your tomb-stone reading reminds us of the sadnesses that plagued families of the time.
    All was well and Mrs Warfield gave her a lovely piece of china to commorate the event. This would have been about 1927.

    • Jack White
      24 January 2013 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      Hi Marie,

      Thanks, I missed this comment. I’ll have to give it some attention.

  • Fred Maples
    19 June 2013 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Great article Jack. I’ve separately researched Warfield for his time as a banker. If you’re interested shoot me an email and I’ll explain.

  • Barbara C. Stewart Mudgett
    26 November 2013 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    Great writing ,love all the black and white photos you gathered linking the history, where I now reside in . Seems a lot of our great visionaries where so young , anchored to there land . Goal oriented, calm, unwavering, even in the midst of calamity . I found an interesting book, in my husband’s grand library. Under a huge window are all the books related to anything Baltimore Green Mount Cemetery-100th Anniversery1838-1938. and on page 61 there is a stone marked Warfield. With a huge erected cross above it . Captain reads… Henry M. Warfield and Family. I am curios , could this be a brother or some family lineage ? I think Mr. Warfield would be proud of you. Seems he was quite good at calling cards ,& letter writing .

  • The Rise and Fall of Wade Warfield and Other Calamities – Part Two – The 1920s – Charred Timber and Ashes
    14 May 2015 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    […] If you’d like to hear a bit more about the topic and see some left over pictures and some fun scraps of information, here you go. […]

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