Historic Horner Homestead House Since 1819 (Part I) (3/19)

BY JOHN B. HORNER, FOUNDING CTHS MEMBER/March 2019

On or about 1760, two brothers, David and Robert Horner, emigrated from County Antrim, Ireland, eventually settling on 600 acres south of Gettysburg, in Mt. Joy Township, which was then a part of York County, on land they had purchased from the heirs of William Penn.

In 1802, Alexander, the eldest son of David Horner, purchased 440 acres in adjoining Cumberland Township, by then a part of Adams County.

It is not known at this time just when Alexander Horner moved his family from Mt. Joy to Cumberland Township. He was twice married: with his first wife he had fathered six children, but his wife died; he remarried, this time a widow who brought two of her own children from a previous marriage, and she and Alexander went on to have four more children. According to family oral tradition, two adults and 12 children of various ages, from babes-in-arms to teenagers, all lived in a two-room log structure with a loft just to the west of where the homestead house would be constructed, near a never-failing spring, the source of drinking and cooking water for the Horner’s the next 100-plus years.

We are inclined to believe the Homestead House was constructed by Alexander and several of his by-then teen-age sons over a period of years, with some outside help, such as masons, carpenters, and the like. Clay was dug from one of the fields and bricks were fired on the property by a portable kiln, which may account for the fact that some are orange, some maroon and some blue; the closer to the fire, the harder the brick? Up to 50 years ago, a depression, which was called “the pond,” in one of the fields indicated where the clay was obtained. The brick work is Flemish bond, with two courses on the sides and three on the ends, but no interior insulation.

The house is configured in the shape of an ell. The front building was completed in 1819. We know this by a dated brick at the upper left corner of one of the windows which is inscribed “DC 1819.” It consisted of four large rooms, two down and two up, all of which have working fireplaces. The windows of the first floor are all nine-over-six panes, while those of the second floor are six-over-six. From inside the front door, an open stairway dramatically reaches all the way to the garret.

Unknown at this time is whether the back building (consisting of six smaller rooms) was constructed at the same time as the front building or added later. There is compelling evidence that it was, but equally compelling evidence that it was not. It wasn’t unusual for a family to add to the size of their house as the family grew, although with the Horner’s, the family was already quite large to start with. Likewise, a summer kitchen was added, detached from the homestead house, the date of which is unknown.

The fact that a 200-year-old house can still provide adequate housing for a family attests to the concept that in the olden days these structures were made with integrity to last for generations. Further information, including photos of the house, may be found at youtube.com/Horner Farm.

John B. Horner is a founding and life member of the Cumberland Township Historical Society and the fifth generation owner of the Horner Farm.