Bay Life Pilgrimage

Vol. 8, No. 18
May 4-10, 2000
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Inside Southern Anne Arundel’s Stately Homes
by Darcey Dodd

Sneak past white gates up a long tree-lined drive. That drive forms a circle and now, in front of you, soars the columned entrance to a mansion.
What’s behind those doors, you wonder. Who’s lived there? Who lives there now? Just how old is it and why is it tucked away?

Wouldn’t it be grand to peek inside? Grander still to find out first-hand what the scoop is?

You can.

Each year, for the past 63 years, Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage Tours open historic doors in seven counties to anyone who wants to come inside.

This Saturday, May 6, for the 2000 Pilgrimage, Southern Anne Arundel County joins the tour.

Opening their doors are eight homes and a church — plus the site of an 18th century shipyard. They stretch from Lothian to the banks of the West River to Deale and Fairhaven.

Some are old Southerners boasting large center halls, circular staircases and lovely gardens. Others are filled with memories of generations of tobacco-farming families. A couple even have signature markings left by early owners.

They’re all different ages, too. The newest, Birkhead’s Parcell, went up just six years ago. The oldest, Portland Manor, has stood since 1754.

The $20 paid by each pilgrim will not only get you inside but also pay for good things.

The money raised from each county’s home and garden tour helps preserve and restore architectural and historical properties within that county. Visiting the Southern Anne Arundel sites will support more archeological research into the 18th century shipyard that Stephen Steward built.

Steward’s shipyard, the once-booming building site of 100-foot galleys and small schooners, was burned down during the American Revolution. Now, it sits underwater on a creek at the head of the West River.

We won’t give away all the secrets waiting for you behind eight private doors in your county, but we will give a hint of what you’ll find on your pilgrimage through some of Chesapeake Country’s oldest and newest domestic treasures.

The Tour’s Oldest: Portland Manor

As the oldest home, built in 1754, Portland Manor holds the most mystery and history.

“It’s an interesting puzzle,” too, for three-year owner Bernard Wulff. “There are many intriguing aspects.”

Portland Manor, in Lothian, took its name from the land tied to it: 2,000 acres that was granted by Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore, in 1667 to surveyor general of Maryland Jerome White, Esq.

Today, Portland Manor sits on five rolling acres.

A white fence lines the long drive that leads to the two-story white frame house with its deep, columned front porch.

Inside you’ll find three bathrooms and one powder room, a traditional hall and parlor and three staircases — one that once stood outside where it was believed to be used by a Confederate soldier in hiding. The unusually short six-foot door frames are believed to have been built that way by early owners to lower colonial taxes on door and window frames.

Portland Manor is unique in that it’s one of only a few Maryland homes with a rafter roof-frame. Wood is hand-felled oak and poplar. “Most of the timbers that framed the basement are still intact from 1754,” Wulff says.

Wulff, an architect, and his wife were looking for a very old house to restore. They found it in Portland Manor, which is both historic and needy. “This house has enormous character,” says Wulff of his early Chesapeake-style house. “And gives me the opportunity to rebuild.” They’re doing extensive restoration, including removing aluminum siding that “destroys the historic character.”

The Tour’s Newest: Birkhead’s Parcell

Also in Lothian, on a working tobacco farm of nearly 50 acres, sits Birkhead’s Parcell. At six years old, this story-and-a-half brick Williamsburg is the newest home on the tour.

The land has been in owner Susanne Smith’s family since 1799 when her ancestor, Jerningham Drury, acquired it.

Susanne and her husband Gordon have lived in the area all their lives. When they laid the foundation for their new home in 1994, they built in the style home that both grew up in. “And it went with the barn,” says Smith.

Outside, you’ll follow a green meadow up a long driveway to the eight-room, two-bathroom home. Screened porch and kitchen are telescoping wings to either side of the central structure with its four symmetrical windows, two on either side of the entrance door. Inside, the home is furnished in part in family antiques. It’s all on a scale that feels cozy and lived in.

Cross through the orchard in the back, and you’ll find neighboring Some Day Farm, that also belonged to the Drury family until 1952. It’s your next step on the pilgrimage.

Next to Some Day Farm’s circular drive, Smith’s relatives rest under a dozen 19th-century tombstones.

Getting There

Also on tour are Lothian; Parkhurst; Norman’s Retreat, at right, built on what was once Steward’s Shipyard, and the shipyard itself; St. James’ Parish; Some Day Farm; Marshes Seat; Gravelly Hill; and Hopewell Farm.

“They’re all clustered right in this area,” says Susanne Smith, who is co-chair for Anne Arundel County’s tour.

But you’ll need a map to find them, for these are not homes that proclaim themselves boldly in public view.

The map comes with the price of admission, $20 in advance, at any house — if you can find one without your map — or at St. James Church, at Routes 2 and 258, where you’ll want to be for lunch.

The tour is organized from north to south and begins at the 1804 home Lothian. This one’s easy — and a good place to get your map. Follow Route 2 to the Lothian traffic circle. Exit the circle at Route 408. Lothian stands just west of the circle on the right. Its long drive is marked by parallel rows of young blue cedars. Signs help mark the way to each of the 10 stops.

Once you’ve paid your money, you’re welcome inside — as long as you’re not wearing spikes or high heels. Pets are not welcome, and neither are smokers nor inside photos. The tour is on rain or shine, from 10am to 5pm Sat., May 6: 410/867-2838.

You may so like what you see that you want to continue touring Sunday, when Pilgrimage 2000 moves to St. Mary’s County: 301/872-5872.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly