Mount Lubentia – A Short History by Andy Wallace
Mount Lubentia, erstwhile “Castle Magruder”, is one of the grand old houses of Prince Georges County. Sitting on a terraced hill above the old road from Upper Marlboro to Bladensburg , this ancestral home of the Magruder, Beall and Bowie families has been a landmark for well over two hundred years.
Ninian Beall, one of colonial Maryland’s more remarkable immigrants, obtained the original patent on the property, 1031 acres, called Largo, in 1686. In 1717 Enoch Coombs bought a part of this parcel. His daughter, Barbara, married James Magruder, and they had a son, Enoch, born in 1723. By 1739, Enoch was listed in the rent rolls as holding 125 acres of a piece called Norway, a part of Largo, and seems to have steadily acquired more land in the immediate area, as well as Harmony Hall and W antwater at Broad Creek on the Potomac, and additional land in Ann Arundel County. In short, he was a prosperous merchant and landowner, with extensive holdings.
Enoch was a member of the vestry of St. Barnabas (Brick) church in nearby Collington during the 1750s, and took out a mortgage on a “new dwelling in the Collington Hundred” in 1761 which, by family tradition, referred to Mount Lubentia. In 1765 Enoch was deeded the property by his parents. In 1771, Enoch, who must have been living elsewhere, probably at Harmony Hall, rented the property to the Reverend Jonathan Boucher, newly installed rector at St. Anne’s, by appointment of the royal Governor Eden. This probably came about through the offices of Thomas Addison of Oxon Hill, Magruder’s close neighbor, whose daughter, Eleanor, Boucher was courting at the time.
Boucher moved in, along with his pupils Jackie Custis of Mount Vernon, Charles Calvert of Mount Airy and Overton Carr of Caroline County, Virginia in December of 1771. They were immediately snowed in with a tremendous blizzard, and could not get off the property for three weeks. It was Boucher’s students who dubbed the dwelling “Castle Magruder,” described by Boucher only as a “very tolerable house.” In June Jonathan married Eleanor Addison and brought her to Castle Magruder. At this time Boucher was one of the foremost spokesmen for the Loyalist faction in America. In September of 1772 George Washington and his wife Martha came to visit her son, Jackie, and sat down to dinner with Boucher, Governor Eden and Benedict Calvert, son of Lord Baltimore. Given most of the company’s Royal connections, it must have been a lively discussion. Boucher left the property in 1774, after his life was threatened by the Patriot faction, and moved over to the Broad Creek area, where the political climate was evidently more comfortable for him. As the political climate worsened Boucher decided to return to his native land and departed, for good, to England in 1775, though he maintained a correspondence with Washington for another two decades.
In 1779, Enoch Magruder, and his wife, Meek, deeded the property to their eldest son, Dennis (born 1759) along with 929 acres, part of Norway, upon his marriage to Anne Contee. For the next half-century, Dennis Magruder lived, for the most part, at Mount Lubentia, making substantial improvements and alterations to the property, marrying three more wives ( Eliza Gossaway, 1805), Frances Fitzgerald, (1817) and Mary Ann Beard (1820) and siring 24 children. When war with Britain broke out in 1812, state records were moved from Annapolis to Upper Marlboro for safekeeping. A couple of years later, in June of 1814, these papers, as well as the county records, were moved to Mount Lubentia when the British threatened Upper Marlboro on their way to Washington, via Bladensburg. While repairing a second floor ceiling, fragments of what well may have been these papers were found to have fallen through the cracks in the attic floor!
Dennis Magruder married his last wife, Mary Ann Beard at the age of 65, and three years later they had a daughter, also named Mary Ann. A decade later, Dennis left the property to his son, Dennis, Jr., while investing his wife and daughter with life tenancy. Dennis Jr. married and moved to Missouri in 1834 , and in 1836, upon Dennis Sr.’s demise, the elder Mary Ann sold her life’s interest in Mount Lubentia to Otho Berry Beall and moved to First Street in Coxe’s Row in Georgetown, D.C. to give her only child “the advantages of the Female Institution of Mrs. Lydia C. English.” Three years later, in 1840, Mary Ann, then 17, married Otho Beall’s son, Washington J. Beall, with grand nuptials lasting a week. These festivities were recounted in a written account by Mary Ann’s daughter, Rosalie Bowie, in the early 20th century, based on her parents’ recollections. Thus the property remained in the family.
The newly wed couple settled into Woodlawn, an adjacent plantation given them by Otho Beall, and in 185 3, commenced building a new house there, in the Greek revival style. This house is now the rectory for the Riverdale Baptist Church, located on Route 202 about two miles from Mount Lubentia. Otho Beall left Mount Lubentia to his son Washington who, in 1883, sold the property to William J. Bowie, who had married his daughter Rosalie. William died shortly thereafter, in 1888, and his widow remained at the farm, which passed on her death in 1921 to her son, Washington Beall Bowie, who had married Frances Dodge, from a prominent Georgetown family. The W.B. Bowie family lived at Mount Lubentia for 55 years, raising five children in the house. Washington Bowie, who died in 1960, left the house to his wife and son, Forrest, an architect, who took a great interest in the family and architectural history of Mount Lubentia, and hoped to eventually restore the house to it’s 18th century form. Frances Dodge Bowie lived until 1975, and four years later, with the house vacant since his mother’s death, Forrest passed away., leaving the property to his widow Frances Stevenson Bowie. Mrs. Bowie carefully maintained the property until 1997, when she sold the house and 5.5 acres to Andy and Sondra Wallace who are currently restoring the house and grounds.
The earliest reference to the present house is contained in the 1798 Tax assessment. It describes a two story brick dwelling, 48′ x 37′, with a brick passage and 32′ square kitchen adjoining the house, along with numerous brick and frame outbuildings. The assessment notes that the house was being worked on inside. The valuation was $1500, one of only four houses in the Collington and Western Hundreds valued at over $1000.
Was this the house that Enoch Magruder built ca. 1761, undergoing alterations by his son Dennis, or a later structure that Dennis built? As with most early dwellings, absent a written record, the answer is uncertain. The brick structure, laid in Flemish bond, with rubbed brick jack arches over all the windows, and a high molded water table, could have been built anytime during the second half of the 18th century. Original grade appears to have been about 8-9 inches lower than present and the basement windows were three brick courses larger with vertical wooden bars, shown in the earliest photos. There are shadow lines on either side of the entryway indicating that there were, at one time columns applied to the brick, possibly part of a portico of some type. The windows are 6 over 9 double hung sash on the first floor and 6 over 6 on the second floor, which would indicate a late 18th or early 19th century date for the sash. Some of the original glass is intact. The floor plan is classic Georgian, with a center hall, flanked by rooms on either side, with the unusual feature of a curved staircase, occupying the entire right side of the entranceway, where a small room would ordinarily be located. This staircase is light and graceful and has federal features which would date it to the 1 790s. There is an archway separating the front hall from the rear. Front and back doors are aligned, but off center in the hall. The left edges of the trim are clipped at the capitals. All of the first floor rooms have wainscoting and federal style mantles, with no two rooms detailed the same. There is however a definite hierarchy of these public spaces with the two rear rooms, apparently a drawing room with glass doored cabinets flanking the fireplace to the left and the dining room containing the largest and most elaborate mantle, on the right. The dining room is serviced by a back hall, located under the stair landing, with doors leading to the front hall, the basement (where a winter kitchen was located), and to the porch in front of the kitchen passage. This passage was clearly intended for servants= use, rather than the public. It is much more simply trimmed. All downstairs walls are plastered above the chair rails and there is no evidence of cornice moldings. Taken as a whole, the house appears to be Federal in style, with some trim elements possibly dating to an earlier period.
The kitchen described disappeared during the 19th century, and the passage seems to have been expanded into a more formal room early in the 19th century, possibly the plantation office. This became evident during restoration when the remains of the old passage wall were found under the floor. It also became evident that the common wall between the main house and the passage was originally an exterior wall with Flemish bond and finely tooled joints, and that the passage was added to join the kitchen to the main house, after the two buildings had stood separately. This is also evidenced by the fact that the bricks do not line up in the rear (west). This would seem to indicate, as was often the case, that the house developed in stages, over time, rather than being built as a unit. Further evidence surfaced of early alterations when I was restoring the dining room, located off the right rear of the stair hall, leading to the passage. This room underwent a major rebuilding in the late 18th or early 19th century, when there was a major structural failure of the brickwork over one of the windows. In fact, it is likely that all of the first floor rooms were finished, or remodeled at different times in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The second story contains three bedrooms, all with federal mantles, chair rails and simple trim. The large hall space continues the hierarchy of the downstairs hall. The door casings are stepped, but contain two different architraves for the front and back doors. There is a small room at the back of the hall, which may have been added early on. This was converted to a bathroom in the 20th century. A door in the right rear bedroom leads to the back service stairs, descending to the old passage. It is likely that this door was added when the roof to the addition was raised early in the 20th century. This bedroom, like the dining room below it, has the west (window) wall firred out and lathed with split lath and forged nails. It also had interior shutters, the only room on the second floor with this feature, although all of the first floor rooms have shutters. The mantle in this room is also elaborate and very similar stylistically to the one in the room below it. These two mantles are quite different than the others, obviously done by a different hand and, presumably, at a different time. The third floor was converted to living space in the 1920s, and a decade earlier, the passage addition was raised to a full two stories from its earlier loft configuration.
Mount Lubentia retains a remarkable amount of its 18th century materials and detailing. It has, of course, undergone many changes over two centuries of day-to-day living. Besides early alterations, the house underwent at least two major periods of work. When the Bowies reoccupied the property, after a shadowy period of almost 50 years, from 1840 to 1883, the house was reputedly in ruinous condition. The earliest photos of the place show that the entire northeast comer had collapsed and been rebuilt. Large Victorian style porches were added to the front and back at this time, and new floors were laid in large parts of the house. As mentioned, major work was also done in the teens and twenties of the 20th century. With all of this work, however, great respect was shown for the original building, and it remains an extraordinary example of a Georgian-Federal plantation house.
The Grounds and Outbuildings
While little remains of the 18th century landscaping at Mount Lubentia, the grounds contain a wonderful variety of old plantings, some dating back over 100 years. Foundations oflong vanished outbuildings are scattered throughout the property, and an early 19th century com dryer survives, which has been converted into an office/shop. In 1971, Forrest Bowie moved a unique 18th century octagonal dairy house from Graden, a Berry family plantation demolished when USAir Arena was built, and it remains on the grounds, and is now undergoing restoration. In 1931, Forrest Bowie, then 16, executed a detailed drawing of the grounds of Mount Lubentia, noting all of the plantings in what was then a showcase Colonial Revival garden. The original is in the archives of the Prince George’s County Historical Society. The plan has proved invaluable in restoring elements of the garden.
Mount Lubentia – Tree List
Nellie Stevens holly
English plane tree
Rose of Sharon Iolanthus
Barberry ( several kinds) Mock orange
Bridle wreath spirea Spirea
The Graden Dairy House at Mount Lubentia
Among the significant outbuildings still standing on the grounds of Mount Lubentia is an octagonal eighteenth century dairy house, now sitting about 50 yards north of the house and in ruinous condition. The dairy house was originally located at Graden, a Berry family plantation several miles north of Mount Lubentia; it is listed there in the 1798 Federal Tax Assessment for Prince George’s (P.G.) County1 In the 1970s Forrest Bowie, then owner of Mount Lubentia, moved the dairy house from Graden at the time when the US Air Arena was being built on the Graden site. (The Arena has now been replaced by the Boulevard at Cap Center shopping mall.)
The dairy house move was executed in two stages five years apart. The wooden structure itself was moved in November 1970. For unknown reasons, it was not until 1975 that the brick foundation and floor of the structure were taken apart and moved to Mount Lubentia, where the bricks have been stored ever since. Both the 1970 move and the 1975 removal of the brick foundation were documented with photographs by Forrest Bowie; copies of the photos are appended to this report. Also appended are Forrest Bowie’s drawings of the drain system in the floor of the structure, and papers related to the transfer of the building to Mount Lubentia.
The National Register of Historic Places listing for Mount Lubentia, in its description of the property (by P .G. County historian Susan Pearl) notes, “Also on the property and of significance in and of itself is the octagonal frame dairy which was moved onto the property in the 1970s. The dairy is the best surviving example of an architecturally conscious domestic outbuilding of the 18th century in the county, and possibly in the state.”2 A recent article in Colonial Williamsburg magazine, discussing dairy and milk houses in the Tidewater region, features the Graden dairy as an outstanding example of its kind. 3 John Michael Vlach states in Back of the Big House, ” … dairy buildings were exceptional elements in the built landscape. A dairy was thus an architectural emblem signaling the wealth of the planter class.”4 The Graden dairy fits this description and is unusual in several respects – in its shape, in its degree of finish, and notably in its asymmetrical, shuttered and latticed window openings.
It is this last feature of the Graden dairy that most puzzles me. Why , in a building with a high degree of sophistication, built during a period when exterior symmetry was so important, are the window openings sandwiched into the corners of the sides, with one opening missing altogether? Why for that matter are there windows, instead of the usual long horizontal openings with slats or latticework? The window placement is dictated by the way in which the frame was built. The fact that the principal vertical supports, or posts, were located in the middle of each side, rather than at the corners, dictated that the window openings would have to be offset, rather than centered on the sides. But why was this post placement chosen? This is not typical practice in post and beam construction. Normally the posts would be located in the corners of the octagon, particularly since the main cross beams rest on the plates at the corners, not at the midpoint of the sides. I have never encountered a structure framed in the manner. Is it a result of local building practice, a technique that originated in a particular area of England where the joiner or his ancestors came from, or is it simply the whim of a particular builder? As to windows rather than high horizontal openings, there are a few precedents for this. Olmert in his article gives a couple of examples and Vlach a sites a notable dairy with windows at Folly Plantation, Augusta County, Virginia. Closer to home, Orlando Ridout of the Maryland Historical Trust sent me a photo several years ago of a small outbuilding, similar to the Graden dairy, in Sandy Springs, Montgomery County, Maryland. But the windows in these buildings are all symmetrical.
The Graden dairy house is a frame structure, octagonal in shape, twelve feet across with an eave overhang of one foot, for an outside diameter of fourteen feet. It is sheathed with wide southern pine boards, beaded and lapped, which range from ten to fifteen inches in width. Each side is five feet long and eight feet from eave to foundation. The dairy has latticed windows with exterior board and batten shutters on six sides (Photos DH 7, 13, 22) and one completely sheathed side, with a door, opening inward, centered in the remaining side. The windows are offset rather than being centered on the sides to accommodate the principal posts, which are at the midpoint of each side (DH 37), providing principal support for the top plates. Posts are joined to sills and plates with mortise and tenon joints. Studs are tenoned into the top plates and nailed to the sills. Sills are also joined with pegged mortise and tenons.
The building was originally nogged with brick and plastered inside.
The ceiling structure is quite elaborate, with two heavy cross beams or girts, which are lapped at the center and joined (m &t) with four horizontal struts about 16″ out from the center. Twelve ceiling joists extend from these struts to the ends of the eaves (DH 24, 27). Girts and joists lapped onto the plates, but not fastened with pegs or nails (DH 19), and support the roof.
where water was carried in from a nearby well and poured into a trough containing crocks of milk that ran around the perimeter of the dairy floor. This would seem to describe the construction of the Graden dairy floor.
The ceiling was lathed and plastered inside the quadrants of the principal beams, leaving about two inches of the cross beams exposed. These exposed surfaces were beaded on the comers
The roof rafters extend from the top of a central post, which is mortised into the cross beams and secured with a wrought iron strap wrapped around the beams. (DH 26) The roof rafters are nailed to the central post at the top (DH 28) and extend to the ends of the ceiling rafters where they are nailed to false plates which sit on the ends of the joists and beams. (DH 17, 23,
25).There are rafters at each comer and in the middle of each section for a total of sixteen rafters. The roof was sheathed with riven oak boards, overlapped at the comers and spaced for wood shakes. (DH 23, 28). The original roof had been replaced at least two times, as there were both wrought and cut nails remaining in the sheathing boards. An asphalt shingle roof was in place when the building was moved in 1970.
The structure originally sat about a foot and a half above grade over a brick pit with drain which was 38 inches below the sills (DH 8, 9, 10). A wide, lapped shelf of pine boards, now mostly rotted, sat on top of the sills around seven sides of the building (DH 14, 15), and a shelf, hanging down about 30 inches, was suspended from the principal cross beams DH 36, 37, 38). Almost all of the structural elements of the dairy house are original (see appendix B), including framing, siding, roof sheathing, hardware and nails, but significant sections are rotted or missing.
The Graden dairy is currently (January 2006) in the process of stabilization and restoration. New sills of pressure-treated yellow pine have been installed, and missing or damaged framing elements are being duplicated or repaired. These include two of the posts and one of the plates, as well as sections of several ceiling joists. In each case wood of the same species as the original has been used . (See Appendix B) Structural epoxy has also been used to repair sections of beams, plates, joists, studs and posts. Windows with their lattice and shutters and the door have been removed and stored until they are restored and reinstalled. The roof rafters and post have also been removed and stored. Several of the rafters need to be repaired or replaced, but the post and strap securing it are in good shape and will be reinstalled. (See photos DH40-67)
The building now sits on concrete piers, awaiting relocation this spring to a different site on the property a few yards north and west of its current location. This will place the dairy at the end of an allee of American boxwoods on an axis with the rear porch.
The complete restoration of the Graden dairy is a long range project. Elements of the restoration, i.e. rebuilding of the foundation and brick floor with drains, and the replastering of the interior, will be dependent on obtaining grants to accomplish the work. The short range goal is stabilization, and restoring the exterior of the frame structure to its original appearance. The following tasks will be undertaken in the next year or so:
1. Moving the structure to a site north and west of its current placement and placing it on concrete piers for further work.
2. Rebuilding of the roof structure using existing parts and replacements of like material.
3. Installation of a wood shingle roof by a roofing contractor specializing in historic structures. Bids are being obtained.
4. Repair and reinstallation of the window frames and shutters, including reproduction of missing or damaged HL hinges.
5. Replacement of siding, eaves and soffits with new material of the same form and dimensions. Poplar boards are currently being air dried for this purpose by the owner, and will be lapped and beaded as the originals. Original wrought nails, salvaged from the building, will be used to attach this material whenever possible.
6. Painting the structure with white paint to duplicate appearance in 1970, when it was moved to Mount Lubentia.
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