Want to stay close to home this summer? Tour seven local houses and gardens to support a good cause.

By Tara Peck

As preparations for summer trips are underway, some travel far and wide in search of history and beauty. There is a misconception that we need to leave our local area and neglect what can be found in our own backyard.

Lovingly restored, with attention to detail and preservation of the past, many homes in our area offer a rich history. Visitors can experience what it was like to live a century or two ago. Our area also boasts local gardens, cultivated with sights and smells that entice the senses and offer a respite from our busy lives. Literally, time to stop and smell the roses.

The Women’s Club 12th House and Garden Tour 2023

The Women’s Club House and Garden Tour on Saturday, June 10th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. gives the opportunity to experience seven houses and gardens, including a Dutch colonial from the early 20th century and a log home with a period-accurate garden. The self-guided tour (with docents at each location) raises funds to support the Women’s Club mission of providing affordable housing and education for women of limited means.

Tickets are $35 in advance and available for purchase at the club’s downtown location at 31 South Prospect Street, Hagerstown, MD, or on their website at Tickets will be available the day of the event for $40 in-person at the Women’s Club. A prepaid bagged lunch is also provided for $12. Please see website for mobility limitations.

100 Years of Helping Women

Since its founding during World War I, the Women’s Club has served as a meeting place for women’s social gatherings and charitable work for the community. Members volunteer throughout the year at the food bank housed in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the cold weather shelter at Reach of Washington County, gift-wrapping for the Red Cross, bell-ringing for the Salvation Army, and various other nonprofit organizations.

The foremost charitable work of the Women’s Club is providing affordable housing for up to 14 women. From students to women who have recently graduated, women going through divorce, and those who have overcome an abusive situation, rooms are available at a low cost. Member Lieba Cohen says, “Recently we’ve been a transition place for women who have recovered from addiction and have left Brooke’s House.” Safe, clean rooms with bathroom facilities are provided, along with a communal kitchen, and laundry on site. Sales from the tour will support the club’s ongoing mission to provide affordable housing and a scholarship fund for women.

Houses and Gardens


An Artist’s Retreat

An Asian-inspired garden and eclectic home decor can be found at Sukey’s Garden. Owned by Robert and Sukey Rankin, the 1920’s home features French doors and Craftsman-style woodwork. Rather than focusing on one style, the home is an assemblage of various interior designs. Throughout their time at the residence, the owners have made some changes to the American foursquare home, but have preserved much of it.

Owner Sukey is a talented artist and metalsmith. “The front porch spindles,” she describes, “are made out of pottery beads from a local potter.” Sukey jokes: “I can’t tell you how long that took.” The effect created by the beads was well worth the time. More of Sukey’s artwork can be found throughout the garden in the form of metal sculptures or accouterments.

In addition, the garden contains a beautiful pond full of goldfish and one to two koi. Visitors can walk across the pond on stepping stones and watch the fish, while others may enjoy sitting on its banks, taking in the relaxing atmosphere. Along with herbs, vegetables, and different kinds of flowers, there are vignettes of hostas with themes such as the television show Star Trek, a mouse garden, and Japanese garden. Sukey grows perennials and annuals in an alleyway garden as well, which she uses for floral arrangements.

Blending the Old with the New

Brightwood, an early 19th century farmhouse, was purchased in 2018 by Andrew and Ashley Eshleman. Upgrades such as new windows, HV/AC, and electrical updates have been added over the years, but Andrew and Ashley are adamant about retaining the charm of Brightwood. “It was really important for us to keep all of the historical details of the home,” Ashley explains, “and just add our touch as far as decor and lighting.” Brightwood features unusually large rooms for the 19th century, as well as original hardwood floors and moldings.

In addition, the Eshlemans were able to uncover two original walls within the home: a log wall in one of the bedrooms and a stone wall in the kitchen. Both had been hidden behind three inches of plaster, waiting to be discovered again by the owners. “Our house has been added onto over the years. As each owner has taken it, they’ve put their own mark on it. It’s a nice blend,” Andrew says.

While maintaining the historical aspects of the home, the Eshlemans have put their own stamp on Brightwood through decor. “I like to mix old and new, so I like to find things with soul,” Ashley remarks. The home has antiques as well as items from current stores. Ashley was able to find antiques and decor through Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. There are many custom pieces throughout the home that have been restored, painted, or stained by the Eshlemans, as well as family heirlooms passed down to the couple.

Living History

The Bowman House, situated on the left as you enter Boonsboro, was likely built between 1826 and 1840. John Eavey Bowman purchased the home in 1868 and it served as a private residence and storefront for Bowman’s pottery. While some pottery is on display from May to October when the home is open, more will be available the day of the Women’s Club tour in addition to other artifacts and items.

Denny Warrenfeltz, a member of the Boonsboro Historical Society, maintains the garden and hosts living history interpretations for visitors. “I’ve been involved since 1971,” Denny says, “it’s a passion of mine. It combines the best of all worlds: history, architecture, heirloom plants and flowers, and food.”

Passersby on Boonsboro Pike may have noticed the two front doors on the Bowman House. The right side leads to the storefront where some of Bowman’s pottery can be seen today. In order to determine the provenance and date of John Bowman’s work, Denny advises: “He signed almost none of his pottery, he did not stamp it. So you go by the form, the glazes, the rims.” Bowman’s pottery is utilitarian with colors of red, brown, and orange. He made jugs, crocks, flower pots, pitchers, mugs, banks, and other various assorted items.

As visitors step outside, they will be greeted with a grape arbor and one of the oldest pecan trees in Maryland. Followed by a lovely shaded area with tables and chairs where guests can sit and enjoy their lunch purchased at the Women’s Club. Denny says guests, “are welcome to make themselves at home in this garden.” Visitors on the tour will find books on antique gardening at their tables and after a leisurely lunch, they can explore the period-accurate garden. All of the vegetables, fruits, and herbs are carefully chosen to reflect what would have been grown in the late 19th century.

“I’m afraid these things are going to be lost,” Denny says, “all of it is just one generation from disappearing and it’s very important to me that they are carried on.” Through the work of Denny and the members of the Boonsboro Historical Society, the Bowman House and its history will continue to be passed down to future generations.

Other homes featured on the Women’s Club’s 12th House and Garden Tour include: Sweetbriar, owned by Dr. Bobbie and Mr. Regis Larkin; Oakstone, owned by Richie and Chrissy Holzapfel; as well as the Holzapfel home; and the home of Connie Lenhart.

Other Happenings at the Women’s Club

In addition to providing affordable housing, the Women’s Club charitable foundation also grants scholarships for women in Washington County. Scholarships are awarded to non-traditional students who are working to overcome serious life difficulties and are passionate about higher education. The awarded funds are sent directly to the educational institution. Last year, two recipients received awards of $500 each.

While mainly known for their community service, the Women’s Club is also a meeting place for women to engage in activities such as fitness classes, card making, and mahjong. Other activities include: a lunch bunch who try different local restaurants; The Crossroads Garden Club which is a member of the National Garden Club and Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland; book talk group; and the Dashin’ Divas walking group. Different events such as a Pasta with a Purpose and Wine, Beer, and Tasty Bites occur throughout the year. There is always something happening at the Women’s Club, so members can pick and choose which activities, clubs, and events to be a part of.

Interested in becoming a member of the Women’s Club of Hagerstown? Applications are available at the 31 South Prospect Street location or on their website: You can also follow the Women’s Club on Facebook and Instagram @womensclubofhag.

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