Two Unusual Houses
By James C. Wilfong
When the Federal Writers Project published a series of guides on a state by state basis in the early 1940’s readers in Maryland and Virginia were treated to some delectable texts not known in any travel folder. Readers with an architectural beat must have been particularly pleased. In Anne Arundel County, for instance, the following entry appeared for an old home on Route 178 between Parole and Crownsville:
“At 4.6m. is (L) the dirt entrance lane of Belvoir , whose two and a half story brick house was built in 1730 by John Ross, great grandfather of Francis Scott Key. The original six-bay T-shaped house, with gabled and white-painted entrance portico placed slightly off center on the front façade and flanked by ancient boxwoods, has been greatly altered. The former gambrel roof of the front section of the house has been changed to a gable-the front brick wall clearly showing the mark of this alteration. The clapboarded and gambrel-roofed wing at the right is of recent construction. The walls are fully five feet thick at the foundation. In the garden is the fenced in grave of Ann Arnold Key, Francis Scott Key’s grandmother.”
A basement wall five feet thick is something to behold. That builder of 240 years ago must have been determined that settlement would never be a problem at his plantation home. It has not.
Another builder in Dorchester County, west of Cambridge, must have had some similar thoughts. The Guide had this to say of his home erected on Taylors Island, just off the mainland:
“The mile-long entrance lane (L), 11.4 m., leads to Mulberry Grove, the Pattison estate for the past 250 years.
The land, originally called Dover, received its present name when an early 18th century attempt was made to establish a silk industry here by importing mulberry trees to nourish silk worms. The story-and-a-half center section erected in 1684 has brick walls 54 inches thick.
These walls are now partly plastered and partly clap boards fastened with wooden pegs. The foundation is built of cedar blocks two fee square. The interior contains large fire places and old pine paneling. The small structure behind the house was the first schoolhouse on Taylors Island, built in the late 1700s.”
Someone in this century added a screened porch in the interests of creature comfort and this obscures the remarkable 54-inch brick walls. Dr. H. Chandlee Forman located Mulberry Grove in preparing his 1834 Early Manor and Plantation Houses of Maryland.
To hint of the genuine antiquity, Forman wrote that it was even then about 250 years old and that the small hall was paneled with vertical random-width boards with great diagonal exposed braces. He did not comment on the unique basement walls.
It would seem that if ever a property might be a monument to the art of making do, or the use of the material at hand, Mulberry Grove must qualify.
The writer of this column has had a long love affair with historic houses in this area. He works for C and P Telephone Co.