THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE CALVERT MANSION IN RIVfclRDALE, MARYLAND Maryland of Tau Beta Pi. nitiation requirement for Beta of Pi. January 16, 1931 . Edgar H. Swiclc ^ INKEX Introduction History Construction Genealogy Record of Deeds Pictures Plan of House Bibliography Page 1 3 12 21 23 25 27 28 ■ * INTRODUCTION The town of River dale, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., located about seven miles northest of that city, derives its name from that of a large colonial estate of which it was once a part. This estate was named Rivers- dale, but, with the formation of the suburb, the f 's" in the name was dropped, for reasons unknown. The original name designated the site as that in the dale of two rivers, the Paint and Northwestern branches of the Anacostia River, a tributary of the Potomac. The life of the estate centered around its manor house, a fine example of late American colonial architec- ture. It is this house, now known simply as "The Old Cal- vert Mansion" which this paper will seek to trace through its construction and colorful history. There have been few sources of information. Most of those that were found had been written for popu- lar consumption, and were invariably colored with myth and rumor. The most authentic information has been that ob- tained by word of mouth from members of the Calvert family and from the present occupants of the house, all of whom have very graciously given of both time and knowledge. All that was found will be presented. That which -2- is considered as doubtful will be so designated. Little of the information is absolutely authentic, for there wore few records to guide the searcher, -3- HI STORY The history of River sdale, as is tiiat of any home, is basically a chronicle of its owners. The Calvert family, the original occupants, figure much in the history of Maryland. The state was founded by a Calvert and grew under Calvert guidance. The story of River sdale commenced when Charles Calvert, fifth Lord Baltimore, gave to his son Benedict, whose maternity is unknown, the land upon which Benedict built Mount Airy, another interesting Calvert home. Here was born George Calvert, Riversdale's first owner, the son of Benedict and Elizabeth Calvert, the sixth of their thir- teen children. (See geneology) In 1799, George Calvert won as a bride Rosalie Eugenia Stier, the daughter of Henri Joseph and Marie Louise Stier, Baron von Stier, Lord of Aertselaer and Cleydael, was a wealthy political exile from Belgium, and as a dower, gave to his daughter a home, River sdale. There were origi- nally two thousand asres of land which one souroe asserts was granted to von stier by George III of England. Another source says the land was bought by von Stier, and the most -4- authoritive states that it was originally Calvert property. It was on this land, "beautifully situated in the dale of two streams, that Baron von Stier started, in the last decade of the eighteenth century, to build the man- sion. But rumor came that the von Stier property in Bel- gium was "being confiscated, causing the von Stiers to re- turn to Belgium, so that the house was probably completed by the Calvert s. To the estate George Calvert add«d t *o thousand acres, to make a total of four thousand acres. The home was first occupied between 1800 and 1802, the exact date being uncertain. It is known that Rosalie Calvert was its miBtresa in 1803, for in dated letters written to a brother in Belgium she plaintively dwells on the hardships of her new home, which seem to have been accentuated by frequent child-birth. These let- ters are extremely interesting but give little specific in- formation. The house is next heard of in connection with the War of 1812. It is known to have been in the direct line of march of a small detachment of British soldiers, who marched to Bladensburg over the old Baltimore Turnpike, but there is no record of its having been siezed. one doubtful source, however, records it as having withstood gunfire. -5- On the south front of the house stands an old cannon, about which is built a host of legends. One source places it as one of the four brought to America by Lord Baltimore to defend his colony. This would pair it with a cannon on the State House grounds at Annapolis, More au- thor itive sources place it as one of those used in the vain attempt to defend Bladensburg in August, 1814. In so identifying it one viriter adds the satirical comment that, "So far as can be learned no Navy Yard has been anx- ious to place it in its trophy yard." From a limited knowledge of ordinance, it seems that the cannon is too large --about ten feet long--to have belonged to the earlier period. Upon the deathrof George Calvert in 1S$5 , the estate passed to his second son, Charles Benedict Calvert. It would seem more logical had the estate passed to the eldest son George H., as was the custom of the time. The will of George Calvert, on file at Upper Marlboro, the county seat of Prince Georges County, Maryland, provides for an equal division of the estate between the two sons, and names them as executors. There is also on file a paper in which George H. Calvert renounces his ri^its as executor in favor of his brother. As to the division of the estate, -6- lt is definitely established that Charles Benedict Calvert took the land and house, while any money, stocks, etc. went to George II. who, beside being a writer of note, was as great a lover of travel as was Charles Benedict Calvert a lover of his farm. An old inventory of the estate on file at Marlboro lists the personal property of George Calvert item by item, and fixed its value at $24,712.45-8-, includ- ing a number of slaves valued from one to eight hundred dollars each. The eight hundred dollar slave was a car- penter, and the one dollar ones must have been ventible relics, as a mere infant brought fifty dollars. As it was Charles Benedict Calvert to whom the estate itself passed, it is he with whom we are next con- cerned. He was a farmer to the core, and under his guid- ance River sdale gained national prominence as a model farm. One of the most interesting sources in this connection was an article written for the "American Farmer" by an unknown author in 1848, in which he pays high tribute to River sdale and its proprietor , He describes what seems to have been an innovation with Mr, Calvert, the draining of marsh land to form fertile fields. He speaks in particular of a fifty acre plot south of the mansion as follows; "After digging and graduating the drains, so aa -7- to ensure himself of their capacity to pass off water into the open ditches, he fills them up with pine boughs, to such a height as that they will not interfere with the opera- tion of ploughing, and then covers up to the surface with the earth which had been excavated." This writer for the "American Farmer " also adds this interesting sidelight in the fluent style of the times, "MT. Calvert works several of his dry cows in the yotte, and he is decidedly of the opinion, that four of them are competent to perform as much labor as six oxen. We saw one of them in a team working with three oxen; we took especial notice of her bearing, and thought she took a more elastic stride than either of her fellow laborers, — and by the way it did not surprise us, for we have enter- tained the belief that there was more integrety of purpose --more truthfulness, --in the female than in the male sex, whether biped or quadruped." There is more information from this fertile source under "Construct ion. M In connection with his activities as a farmer, Charles B. Calvert established the Maryland Agricultural College, the fore-runner of the University of Maryland at College Park, To it in 1856 he sold four hundred and twenty - eight acres of his land for ten thousand dollars. He also -8- loaned to the school two thousand dollars. He became the President of its first board of trustees, and it is in hie honor that Calvert Hall on the campus of the university is named. Besides being a successful fanner, Charles s. Calvert was a legislator. Records show that he attended sessions of the Maryland Legislature in 1838, 1843 and 1844. He was a member of the thirty -fourth Congress of the United States, having introduced much farm legislation as well as the bill with which his name is generally con- nected, one providing for compensation to owners of slaves. In this way he hoped to avert impending civil war. Another more famous legislator intimately connect- ed with River sdale is Henry Clay. In the mansion he draft- ed the Missouri Compromise. In the latter part of his life he must have been a constant visitor at the home for there is in the possession of the family a portrait of Henry Clay, holding on his knee Eugene, a son of Charles Benedict Calvert, Charles Benedict Calvert died on May 12, 1864. His will and a reaffirmation are on file at Upper Marlboro. In the will, after a lengthy dissertation on life as he has found it, he nameB his brother, George H. Calvert, and his widow, Charlotte Augusta Calvert, (who is on file as re- -9- nouncing her right) executor and executrix of his will. The property was to Toe divided at their discretion among the children as they became of age. The equity papers marking this division were focn»d, together with an old plat of the division which was practically valueless, since it gave no dimensions nor locations of landmarks. This division, which took place in 1866 marked the end of the estate as a whole. The estate was divided into zones which ran approximately east and west. These were distributed as follows: Zone_l, To George H. Calvert (son of Charles E. Calvert) 174i acres. This zone included what is now Riverdale, Md, Zone 3 . To Charles Baltimore Calvert , 203 1/4 acres. This zone was north of zone 1 and was south of the summit of Cat Tail Hill. Zone 3. and 6 . To William H. Calvert, 298i acres. This included the property now being developed by H. C. Eyrd, known as College Heights, Zone_4. To Eugene Calvert, 314 acreB . Zone 5 . To Ellen Calvert Campell, 165& acres. This included the present College Park, Md. Dower . To his wife Charlotte A. Calvert. -10- The estate had by this time dwindled from the original four thousand acres to shout fifteen hundred acres. There is un- doubtedly record of the losses as they occurred, but they would be too numerous to be of interest . After the estate was divided, the mansion was oc- cupied by George H. Calvert, son of Charles Benedict Calvert. Here were born his children^some of whom are now living. But the day of grandeur was gone, if famous people visited Riv- er sdale, if interesting events occurred in connection with it, they left no record. The family fortune was probably about gone, for in 188? George H. Calvert sold the mansion to a John Fox of Hew York, who at the same time purchased the dower division. These two tracts proved an excellent invest- ment for in two years Mr. Fox sold them to the Riverdale Parle Co. for one hundred thousand dollars, over twice what he had paid. The subdivision was formed, and thus ended the story of the land. What remains of Riversdale f s record concerns the house only and was largely gotten from deed records at Upper Marlboro. In 1893 the Riversdale Pari: Co. sold the mansion to Pannie Kelley Gordon, whose death in 1904 caused the house to pass to her only son, josiah S, Kelley, of Oklahoma. He, in 1911, sold the place to Barbara M. Graf, who resold it in 1912 to T. H. Pickford of Washington. After the war the -11- house became the residence of Senator Hiram Johnson of Cali- fornia who, however, did not buy it, in 1926, the house was purchased by Senator T-. H. Caraway of Arkansas, who lives in the houso at the present time. In the interim from 1887 to the World War, the history is as vague as it was one hundred years ago. It is just as well. The house was by short periods a summer hotel, --the Lord Baltimore Club, a resort for members of Congress, and a tea house, it is better to forget that period, for it does not belong. In fact, it i s already forgotten, so incon- sequental was it . More fitting are the present occupants of the house. It was built for such as they. They are restoring the house, both in structure and in prestige. Both are hard to do, and the process is slow. However, River sdale, seat of Maryland aristocracy, show place of yesterday, and stamp- ing ground of legislators, is surely coming back. -12- G OBSTRUCT I OH Note; -The -writer's visit to the mansion was but a short one. The present occupant, Senator T. H. Caraway of Arkansas conducted him from basement to garret, but time was limited. The house is now a home, and the writer did not feel free to go roam- ing around with a tape measure and a probing camera, as would have been the case had the house been un- occupied. Exterior dimensions and photos were taken, but no interior measurements or pictures were obtain- ed. This is intended to explain a lack of specific detail in what follows. Pacts ae to the construction of Riversdale Man- sion are few, and these few are often contradictory, one of the other. The date of erection seems fixed as between 1790 and 1802. There is good reason to believe that it may have taken all this time, for slave labor and massive masonry were not a fast method of construction. The principle material used was brick. This brick is a puzzle. One source quotes what seems to be only a leg- end, — that the brick were made in England, landed at St. Mary's, -13- Maryland, and conveyed the one hundred and twelve miles to River sdale "by oxen, Another source admits that the origin is unknown, out states positively that the briok are not of local clay. A third source makes the probably correct assumption that the "brick are of olay dug from the site of the circular lake south of the mansion. This seems the most logical con- clusion . Baron von Stier has been named as the architect. There i s no foundation for this belief. The house is of the Queen Anne period of English architecture. Baron von Stier was a Flemish nobleman. There is some rumor that the house was originally intended to copy the von Stier chateau, seven miles from Antwerp, Belgium. One source states that it does copy it, but this seems unlikely, since there are in the fam- ily, letters from George Calvert to his bride-to-be describ- ing her future home. Surely he would not write to her concern- ing a copy of the home in which she was reared. The archi- tect is unknown, but whoever he may have been, he had a won- derful sense for symmetric beauty and simplicity of line. The walls of the house are extremely heavy. The basement is practically filled with huge brick arches support- ing the masonry partition walls. These arches are roughly built, with "saw-tooth" edges where the brick were not cut to form the intrados of the arch. The first floor seems to be -14- entirely supported on flat arches. The basement is a dark place with small high windows. There is a totally dark wine cellar with shelves built into the masonry. There are two larger rooms, one of which contains a modern furnace, strange- ly out of place in this home of yesterday. Electric switch boxes also add a discordant touch. However, the main floor, reached from the cellar by a rickety stair opening into the east hall, is the more Interesting. The entrance to the house is on the north. One source says that it has always been so, that houses of that period always faced the north. Another source definitely states that the house originally faced the south and the nearest city, Washington. The large piazza on the south seems to confirm this statement. The main stairway and small entrance hall on the north bear out the prior one, Nevertheless at present the front (north) door opens into an entrance hall, To the south are three large rooms --a centfal ballroom and two drawing rooms (they once were). The walls of the ballroom have paneled recesses in each of which was once an oil painting. These have long since given way to paint, and the whole room is now painted white. The ceilings are extremely high and are panelled. French win- dows open out snto the southern piazza. The rooms to the right and left are similar, and each contains a marble mantle, -15- replacing an original mantle which has disappeared. Refer- ence was found to one having been sold for fiftynthousand dol- lars, sometime prior to 1900, Over the mantel in the west room, a living room now, a portrait of Henry Clay is said to have hung at one time. The east room is at present a dining room. To the west of the entrance hall is the main stair- way, supposed to have "been designed "by Thornton, who was the original architect for the Capitol Building in Washington. This stairway has a gracefully curving rail so carved "that one wants to grip it with his hand." The newels are also car- ved as are the "balusters. There are two small service stair- ways, one to the present servant quarters on the east, the other to the west of the main stairway. At both ends of the main building are large wings. The east wing is devoted to the original dining room, which has not been restored, and to the kitchen. The west wing has the library which has been restored to as near its original condition as possible, and a conservatory which at one time may have been a chapel. These wings are at a lower level than the main floor, in fact all through the building changes in level are seen. This seems to be characteristic of early construction. The floors are of wide planking, dark in color. The upper floor is devoted to bedrooms, and a sit- -16- ting room. The bedrooms have dressing rooms connected to them, and these have "been turned into baths. Here again are high ceilings which make the rooms seem too large for com- fort. Many of the "bedrooms are pointed out aa those occupied at sometime by a famous character in history. The Henry Clay room is a typical example. The whole mansion was heated by fireplaces.. There is a fireplace in every room. These range from the ornate marble mantles of the drawing rooms, to the simple brick fire- places of the bedrooms. The fireplaces are all built into the partition walls, and extend but a little into the rooms. Some of the fittings in the house at the present time, may be original, but the owners think it doubtful . In the attic, reached by a twisting stairway was seen an interesting bit of design. The west side of the building had a chimney near the center, yet there was none on the right. Investigation showed that to maintain symmetry, near the roof the architect had bridged the partition walls with heavy timbers, pegged together, and on this bridge had built a false chimney. Thus was exterior balance maintained. The rafters, pinned to the sills with wood, are nearly square, as compared with the long vertical axis seen in those of today. This may be attributed to a lack of know- ledge of stress distribution, which came much later with an -17- immense saving of materials. Also in the attic is the cupola, with a fine view. The present occupant however, labels this as a fairly late addition, although no record can he found as to it 3 construction. The exterior of the house is covered with stucco or plaster painted white. Of particular interest are the col- umns of the south front. Tradition says that these were made for the Capitol Building in Washington, whose dates of "build- ing very closely coincide with those of River sdale' s build- ing. However, being cut too short for the Capitol, they were sold to George Calvert for use at Hi ver sdale. This story is unconfirmed. The grounds surrounding the house are simple in their layout. To the south is a terrace, originally paved with marble of which there i s no trace at present. Then, there are terraced lawns and steps leading down to a circular artificial lake which is spring-fed. There is a circular is- land at its center on which as late as 1901, there was a sum- mer house. No trace of this can be found at present although the island is bridged to the mainland, on the north there is a curving driveway, leading up to the house from two streets. Also, there is an old slave house in line with the east wing which somewhat spoils the symmetry of the building as a whole. ThiB building is at present a garage. -18- So much for the house as it exists today. A pic- ture of the home of yesterday is harder to find. The maga- zine "The American Parmer" referred to "before la the only source. It says little of the house itself but dwells at length on the estate as a whole in 1848. On either front were ample lawns with shade trees, grass plots, parterres and shrubbery. The barn, built with the house, was in keeping with the mansion, and measured eighty feet by forty feet. There was a cow house built by Charles Benedict Calvert to house one hundred head of cat- tle. The methods used in this cow house were the wonder of the day. Not only were the cattle kept warm, but they were fed crushed corn stalks — the silage of today. The soil on the estate, run down by long cultiva- tion of tobacco was being reconditioned by grass cultiva- tion and the liberal use of manure, Theare were twelve hun- dred acres of open land and <»iiong the crops were one hun- dred and fifty acres of oats, one hundred and fifty acres of corn and forty acre3 of rutabagas, together with a pump- kin patch of several acres and a five -acre garden. The age of mechanical devices was beginning. There was a merchant mill run by water, and this supplied flour to the whole neighborhood. There was a "Coleman fence -19- raaking machine" purchased with full rights for Prince Georges County, The "biggest wonder was a saw-mill operated by steam, with which Mr. Calvert -manufactured lumber for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The author had seen a twenty -foot plank: cut in forty seconds. This saw-mill was also used to make white oak furniture for the home. So ardent was Mr, Calvert in his admiration for his saw -mi 11, that he wrote the fol- lowing testimonial letter to its manufacturer. Mr. George Page, -- Sir,-- Having one of your Portable Saw Mills in operation on my estate, near Bladensburg, Prince Georges County, for several months, and being fully convinced of its great and paramount merits, as a superior labor- saving machine, I take especial pleasure in bearing tes- timony to its value, I § § § § Such, indeed is its simplicity, that I find no difficulty in having it tended by ray ordinary farm hands; nor would I find more, should it get out of order, in having it repaired by an ordinary blacksmith, or country mi 11 -wri ght . § § § § When I look at it in full operation; see its wonderful powers, the ease with which it executes its -20- work, I am a truck with surprise that a machine ao simple in all its part a, had not been invented a century ago. § § § § Chas. B. Calvert Thus "began the profession of testimonial writing. There remains but one thing to say of Riversdale»s construction. That is to pay tribute to its permanence. Fundamentally, the building is as sound today as it was one hundred years ago. What is gone has been taken away; it has not rotted away. What builder of today can prophesy such a future for his work? 1931 may well learn a lesson from 1800, a lesson that unit stresses and section moduli can never teach it --one in the value of permanence. -21- GEHEALOOY Charles Calvert-- Fifth Lord Baltimore Children of Charles Calvert Benedict Calvert, died 1788 M- -Elizabeth Calvert Children of Benedict Calvert Rebecca, died in infancy Eleanor -- M-Ceorge Parke Cuetis 1774. M-Dr. David Stuart 1783. Charles, unmarried. Elizabeth-- M-Dr, Steward 1780. Edward Henry - - M-Elizabeth Briscoe 17 96 . George -- M-Rosalie Eugenia Stier 1799 Philip died young. Leonard died young. Cecilius died young . Robert died young. John unmarried. William unmarried. Ariana unmarried. -22- Children of George Calvert . Caroline Mar ie-B- 1800. II- T.W. Morris. George Henry -B -180 3. M- Elizabeth Stuart 1829. Marie Louise , Rosalie Eugeni*?-B-1806 . M- Charles Henry Carter. Charles Benedict -3-1808. -M- Charlotte Augusta JTorriss. Henry Albert . Marie Louise -B-1814 . M- Dr. R. H. Stuart . Amelia Isaloelle. Children of Charles Benedict Calvert George H. Charles Baltimore William H. Eugene Ellen (These are listed as having shared their father's estate} . -23- RECGRD OP EHTSDS (These deeds at County Court House, Upper Marlboro, Md.) T. H. Caraway from T. H. Pickford January 23, 1926 November 27, 1912 Liber 256, Polio 397 T. H. Pickford from Barbara m. Graf Liber 87, Polio 38 June 10, 1911 1904 Jume 22, 1393 Barbara M. Graf from Josiah S. Kelley Liber 72, Polio 148 Josiah S. Kelley from Pannie Kelley Gorden No deed — heir by death of mother Pannie Kelley Gorden from Riverdale Park Co, Liber JWB 25, Folio 397 -24- Riverdale Park Co, from John Fox November' 12, 1889 Liber JWB 12, Folio 484 John Fox from George H. Calvert Jr. June 18, 1887 Liber JWB 8, Folio 520 Alexander Lutz June 16, 1887 from Charles B. Calvert Liber JWB 8, Folio 426 -25- The south front, looking fast ?he south front, looking west Doorway to east wing, north front The lake, from the house -26- The old cannon, south front The piazza, south front The lake, from the east 1Z.O - /rfTj' <K *«£*. 2#.&' *+* 2.I.O •+»- II I I u /tSrvsy /hrtfeo n c OIL// 1 ^^* il dim TXTS ' t tt 's$a// mam 3 C /# ■?a-zz& -2*6 /*3 -*** Sfa// &//7M >S7tt1f T3= 1 ftfe/ten Ofefdi/t/, ■p* - I M I 0Z0 CALWftTAtAMON fl/\/£ADffL£ putN-msrnooR -28- BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Colonial Mansions of Maryland and Delaware By John Martin Hammond. 2. The Maryland Manual --Maryland Department of State. 3. Potomac Landings --"by Wellstach. 4. Dictionary of American Biography --published by Scribner and Sons. 5. Historic Houses of Washington From Magazine and Newspaper Clippings — prepared by the Washington, D.C. Public Library "County Seats at the Capital" by Waldon Fawcett — from "House Beautiful Magazine "-April, 1903, 6. Suburban Districts of Washington, D.C. --Prom Magazine and Newspaper Clippings --prepared by Washington, D. C. Public Library , "Bladensburg a Town with a Past" by Portia Brent (source unknown) , 7. Homes of the Cavaliers—by Katherine Scarborough. 8. The American Farmer Magazine. — Volume IV, No. 2, August, 1848, Page 52. 9. Personal help from Prof. ThomaB H. Spence University of Maryland College Park, Md. -29- Senator T . H, Caraway of Arkansas Riverdale, Md. Miss Plunkett Library of Congress Washi ngt on , D . C . Mr, Erank Stephen Pendall Building V/ashington, D.C. Mr s . Mar ci a Hunt er The Gray Gahles Winchester, Va. Clerk of County Court and assistants Upper Marlboro, Maryland.