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.