- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

KEYMAR, Md. Even by the dawn's early light, it's hard to miss the birthplace of Francis Scott Key. The cream-colored brick house has a U.S. flag flying several stories above the farm fields of northwestern Carroll County.
And it's for sale.
For $1.3 million you can own Terra Rubra, the 149-acre farm along Pipe Creek where the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, learned about his nation's birth at his father's knee and, years later, entertained his grandchildren.
"I really can't remember when a house of this significance has come on the market in Maryland," said Charen Rubin, the real estate broker for the property.
She has gotten more than 20 serious inquiries from around the country since the owner of the Key property, the Terra Rubra Home Trust, put the place on the market Aug. 15.
"Terra Rubra" is Latin for "red earth." Trustee Terri Baker, who has lived in the four-bedroom, two-story house for 29 years, said the estate which includes a huge barn and several outbuildings has become too big for her and daughter Tenni, 16.
"I want something that's kind of downsizing and empty nest," Mrs. Baker said.
Selling also makes sense financially. Demand for residential real estate has risen sharply since her father, Lee Brown, bought Terra Rubra for about $250,000 as an investment in 1974.
"It's a good market," said Mrs. Baker, a National Cancer Institute biologist.
She will leave behind memories of the goats, sheep, cattle and horses she raised there, as well as plank floors and hand-forged hardware that date to 1865 or earlier, when the house was rebuilt after an 1858 windstorm. The cellar and chimneys date to 1770, when Key's grandfather, Philip Key, first settled in the hilly area 40 miles northwest of Baltimore.
The new owner will have to contend with tourists who drop in unexpectedly about once a month after spotting the estate on state road maps. Most realize it's not a museum as they come up the driveway, but some ask for tours, Mrs. Baker said.
"It's never really been a burden over the years," she said.
The buildings and grounds appear well-kept, though not always with an eye toward historic preservation. One bedroom is wallpapered with a design of stars and space shuttles. The kitchen is thoroughly modern, and the carriage house contains a hot tub, water bed and bar.
The dining room decor better reflects the home's history. An oil portrait of Key hangs on one wall, opposite a framed reprint of the poem he wrote after witnessing the British shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor the night of Sept. 13, 1814. The poem, with music borrowed from an English pub song, "To Anacreon in Heaven," was declared the national anthem in 1931.
Key was born at Terra Rubra, then a 3,000-acre plantation, Aug. 1, 1780. His father, John Ross Key, a circuit judge, told the boy thrilling stories of his service in the Revolutionary army, according to a 1937 biography, "Francis Scott Key: Life and Times," by Edward S. Delaplaine.
At age 10, Key was sent to grammar school at St. John's College in Annapolis, where he lived with relatives. He also received his bachelor's and law degrees there, returning home to Terra Rubra in the summers.
He practiced law in nearby Frederick and later in Washington but treasured his visits to Terra Rubra, which he inherited and willed to his wife, Polly. Delaplaine quotes an unidentified granddaughter's recollection of Key riding on horseback beside his grandchildren during wagon rides around the farm.
The family kept slaves. Mrs. Baker and Miss Rubin identified one bedroom as former slave sleeping quarters, and a slave graveyard is marked on the property.
Key, who is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, condemned the buying and selling of slaves for profit but also opposed freeing slaves unconditionally. He favored instead the concept of sending liberated slaves to Africa, according to biographers.
Terra Rubra eventually passed out of Key family ownership, and the estate's acreage dwindled as parts were sold to pay debts. Miss Rubin, president of Frederick-based Historic Properties Associates, said the property, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, may be especially appealing as a horse farm.
Although some of the farmland is protected by agricultural easements, the estate could be carved into eight subdivision lots under local zoning laws.
Chicago-based writer Sam Meyer, author of a 1995 Key biography, "Paradoxes of Fame: The Francis Scott Key Story," said he hopes the property remains intact.
"I think it would be nice if it were preserved," Mr. Meyer said. "It would be a very fitting monument."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide