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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: Michael O. Bourne, 02/1976
Rock Clift
Inventory No.: T-329
Other Name(s): High Banks
Date Listed: 7/30/1980
Location: Discovery Drive , Matthews, Talbot County
Category: Building
Period/Date of Construction: c. 1780s
Description: Prior to the establishment of the High Banks subdivision, Rock Clift or High Banks house was situated in the middle of vast acres of farmland. Even now, the house is separated from the development by a strip of field so that it retains some of its environment. Rock Clift is a two-story, three-bay brick house with dormers and has a one-story four-bay frame addition that was built in two sections. The brick house, judging from its mantel and trim, appears to date from about the 1780s. The original wing appears to be later, as many of its details are seamed with cut nails. The brick house is laid in Flemish bond with a three-brick belt course on the southwest facade and common bond elsewhere. The southwest facade has an off-center entrance flanked by two windows with 6/6 sash. A one-story shed-roofed porch with turned posts covers all three bays of this facade, but the floor of the porch is missing. Three 6/6 windows light the second story and two pedimented dormers Containing 6/6 sash light the attic. On the southeast gable is a protruding fireplace at the first story; the chimney flue above this also protrudes until the top of the second story when it steps back several bricks and continues to rise, projecting only slightly, above the roof where it ends with several rows of corbeling. (There is no fireplace on the second floor at this end.) Two small windows flank the chimney in the attic. Part of the northeast facade has been rebuilt; this facade has fenestration similar to that on the southwest, without the dormers. The northwest end has an interior end chimney wider than that at the other end as it accomodates two flues. Two small windows flank the chimney at the attic level. Part of this end is covered by the wing. Attached to the northwest end of the house are the two sections of the frame wing, built at different times. There was a kitchen on the property by 1804; the present building does not appear to date from that early period in its present form. The hyphen was built between 1804 and 1817 and retains a good amount of original detail. Significance: Rock Clift is an important vernacular structure in the architectural history of Maryland's Eastern Shore. It retains much original and early fabric that is specifically dated through documents. The Federal Direct Tax of 1798 for Talbot County lists Rock Clift as unfinished. Also assessed were a shop, kitchen, and smokehouse. The 1804 tax list mentions a new house with separate kitchens while the 1817 list mentions an adjoining kitchen, indicating construction of the hyphen by that date. The house is also interesting as the building form chosen by a man of strong Quaker faith. The austerity and simplicity of the house and its woodwork are reflective of the philosophy of Edward Needles and his sons. The paneling in the dining room, the fabric of the hyphen, and the removal of the stair from the main block to the hyphen are also datable to the ownership of a Quaker, one Robert Kemp. The history of the families who have owned Rock Clift is in itself a picture of life on the Eastern Shore from the 17th century until the present. Information abounds about these people, who became prominent in politics, Friends Meeting, cabinetmaking, and other areas. The Needles, builders of the house, were an unusual family. They converted to Quakerism and freed their slaves at a time when many Eastern Shore Quakers were turning away from the faith and acquiring slaves for the first time. Edward Needles and his sons, Tristram, were cabinetmakers as well as planters. John Needles, Edward's other son, went on to become a well-known cabinetmaker in Baltimore.


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