The Mysterious Mansion of Pocomoke Forest

by Dana Kester-McCabe

If you have ever traveled the back roads of Worcester County near Snow Hill you may have come across a large unusual home that looks like a cross between something Frank Lloyd Wright might have designed, and something time forgot.

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This house does not look like anything in the area. It has large sweeping buttresses and it is covered in concrete stucco that was applied in a great swirling texture. It was, in fact, designed by someone named Frank, Frank Warren that is. One hundred years ago an impressionist painter from Pittsburgh along with his wife Mary and their children, completed construction of this fascinating local landmark. To mark the century anniversary, the Warren family who still own and use the property, will open the house up for special guided tours this coming June.

Frank Warren, who was born in 1865, was a high school dropout yet he found a way to attend and graduate from art school in Philadelphia. He made his living as a commercial artist, painting murals. During his lifetime he traveled extensively throughout the United States and Central America.

Frank’s work belongs in the impressionist school. His colors are vibrant. His brush strokes were done in a heavy impasto style, and bear a resemblance to the swirling stucco treatment on his home’s exterior. He spent long periods of time away from his family fulfilling commissions in public and private spaces as far away as San Diego and Montreal. Frank painted smaller works of scenes in and around Pittsburgh. He also painted many landscapes of the south west from sketches he made on his travels.

Wealthy mural patrons kept him very busy. After a particularly generous commission he asked his wife and children to vote on whether they should by a car or move to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. This, according to his family was not characteristic of the artist who was known to be strong minded. None the less they voted to move.

Frank Warren always did things in a big way. He was quoted as saying that he "wanted the biggest hat and the biggest car in Maryland." He bought three hundred acres of land in the middle of what is now part of a large woodland track owned by the Nature Conservancy. He designed his dream home with twenty three rooms to look like Spanish style villas he had seen on one of his trips. It was constructed of wood framing overlaid with concrete stucco. It took ten years to complete and included an open air center courtyard that was eventually roofed over. The buttresses and the stucco were meant to make the house look like a tree trunk, and to help it reflect the wooded surroundings. Frank called his estate “The Forest.”

Inside the ceilings are all relatively low. This may be in part because most members of the family were not tall people. Another distinctive feature is a walk in fireplace large enough to burn logs twelve to fourteen feet in length. Warren’s paintings can still be seen throughout the house, including in one room where he painted over thirty panels on the walls.

Frank’s success was mostly with his murals but he also had a fine art painting career that warranted having an agent. His last exhibit was in 1935 at the National Academy of Design in New York City. This was just before he died in a tragic train accident.

The artist Frank Warren was not the only person of note to live in the mansion. His children had quite a legacy of their own. I recently spoke on the phone to Frank Warren III about his father, aunts, and uncles. Five girls and three boys grew up at the Forest attending school in nearby Snow Hill. All but one of them became teachers to help support the family. They began in local one room school houses and had long careers in education. They were much loved and admired. Frank’s grandson said this was clear when the family held their first public house tour of the Forest in the late 1990's.

The daughters remained unmarried and taught high school in various towns around Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore. A lot of the people that came were their students. It was like they taught a whole generation of students from the Eastern Shore. One visitor even left a rose on one of their cherished teacher’s grave stone.

In 2015 special tours provided some basic information about the house and the artist Frank Warren, each one focused on one aspect: the house, the artist, or the family. These tours were organized with the help of the staff at Furnace Town. These are not annual tours and the next tour is not being planned for some time. To find out more visit the Furnace Town Museum website and contact their staff.