Earlier this summer, Heritage Frederick’s staff and volunteers received a kind invitation to tour the historic Steiner House, the headquarters of the Frederick Women’s Civic Club. The oldest portion of the house, now forming the rear ell wing, dates from 1807, while the front section was built in 1817 and is an exceptional example of Federal architecture. The Civic Club has been the steward of this beautiful property since 1962.
Heritage Frederick, formerly known as the Historical Society of Frederick County, has a special connection to the Steiner House. From 1944 until 1960, the society was headquartered at the Steiner House which contained our first museum and research library. The Historical Society acquired the Steiner House in 1944 from Mary Ellenora Lipps, the third generation of the Lipps family who lived on the property for almost one hundred years. Mary’s grandfather purchased the Steiner House in 1848.
The creation of our first museum was inspired by the significant donation of the Tyler-Belt Collection in 1943. The donor, Mary Cecelia Belt of Omaha, Nebraska, made the gift in memory of her husband, William Bradley Tyler Belt, who grew up in Frederick. He was a grandson of prominent Frederick physician and civic leader Dr. William Bradley Tyler. Prior to the reception of the Tyler-Belt Collection, the small archives of the Historical Society were housed in the C. Burr Artz Library and in space provided by Federated Charities.
Marshall Lingan Etchison, President of the Historical Society of Frederick County from 1944 to 1946, chaired the committee that reviewed potential properties and ultimately selected the Steiner House. In his account of the acquisition of the house, Etchison wrote “not only did we like it, we were enthusiastic, and eager to proclaim our find and escort our committee through the premises.” After sending a description of the property to Mary Cecelia Belt, complete with Etchison’s drawing of the front entry with its elaborate fanlight, she agreed to donate $12,000.00 to cover the cost of purchasing the house. The Society restored the Steiner House and a committee, led by Frederick artist Helen L. Smith, organized and moved the collections into the new headquarters. The Steiner House was dedicated and opened to the public on September 3, 1945 during Frederick’s bicentennial year.
Visitors to the Historical Society’s first museum in the Steiner House were able to view the extensive Tyler-Belt Collection of antique furniture, silver, and artwork in addition to local Frederick artifacts collected by Marshall Etchison (many of which were later donated to the Historical Society in 1960). The library on the second floor contained a set of the published papers of the Archives of Maryland, correspondence and genealogical research materials from local families, and handwritten copies of papers presented to the Historical Society on various topics of Frederick County history.
Stephen Steiner [1767-1829] built the residence and is the architect to whom its elegant Federal design is attributed. Steiner is also credited with designing the steeple of Trinity Chapel (the old German Reformed Church) which is the oldest of Frederick’s famed “Clustered Spires.” The Steiner House features finely-carved neoclassical mantel pieces and moldings, a dramatic staircase which ascends from the first floor to the attic, and the celebrated front door with sidelights and a fanlight constructed with intricate tracery and applied decorative motifs of leaves and pineapples.
In describing the Steiner House, Marshall Etchison wrote “through the magnificent generosity of Mrs. Belt, we now own one of the finest houses in the city. Its front door, with leaded side and fan lights, is without equal in our community. With spacious hall and rooms, fine woodwork and beautiful winding stairway, it is not only a joy to all who see it now, but we hope and trust will be a lasting pleasure to the people of Frederick for generations to come.” Etchison’s sentiment has become reality, owing to the dedication of the Frederick Women’s Civic Club, who extend a gracious welcome to visitors to explore the history and architecture of this Frederick landmark.
The staff at Heritage Frederick wish to express our gratitude to the Frederick Women’s Civic Club for their hospitality in welcoming us to the Steiner House and giving us the opportunity to revisit a significant chapter in our institution’s story.
August 1, 2023 by Jody Brumage, Heritage Frederick Archivist