Searching Inventory...

Watkins House Significance

The Frederick and Frances Watkins House is significant as a late example of a time-honored building type in Prince George’s County, viz., a large estate-like dwelling on an expansive, and in this case elevated and commanding, site. At 4,700 square feet, dwellings comparable to the Watkins House in design and execution can be found in exclusive subdivisions nationwide. However, the Watkins House historic setting fixes it as a descendant of the plantation houses of the eighteenth and early-nineteenth century such as Montpelier (PG:62-6), Riversdale (PG:68-5) and others. After pausing for a Victorian interlude, the large, isolated classical house type was revived in Prince George’s County in the early twentieth-century and took the form of architect-designed estates and large dwellings. Examples include Belle Chance, (1912; PG:77-14), Beechwood (1913; PG:79-60), Boxlee (1923; PG:70-39), Langley Park (1924; PG:65-7), Gregor Hall (1926; PG:79-12), Oxon Hill (1929, PG:80-1), Marché House (1932; PG:68-62), the Newton White Mansion (1939; PG:73-6), Perrywood—an 1840s house which was remodeled into a five-part mansion in 1942—(PG:79-58) and Drumsheugh (1950; PG:79-34), the design of which also involved John M. Walton, Sr. The persistence of the type across three centuries is significant, as is the Watkins House’s unusual integrity of workmanship, feeling and association, excellent state of repair and customized features that reflect the Watkins’ style of living. Further, the Watkins’ and Walton’s enthusiasm for the architectural traditions of the county and Maryland, and the Watkins’ choice of commercial architects Walton and Madden is indicative of the owners’ wish for robust construction and timelessness. Finally, the seamless integration of the Study’s wholly Modern design within the otherwise traditionally styled dwelling distinguish the house as a unique example of its type, and reflects both the period of significance and the eclectic, sophisticated taste of both the owners and their architects.

The land on which the Frederick and Frances Watkins House stands was originally part of a tract called Partnership that was patented in 1680 to Nicholas Sewall and John Darnell. Early in the eighteenth century, more than 1,000 acres of Partnership were sold to Benjamin Hall of Charles County. Benjamin Hall’s will of 1720 devised his plantation equally to his wife Mary and his son Francis. Francis Hall inherited the property in 1721 and died in 1785. His will devised his land to his two sons, Benjamin II and Richard Bennett Hall. Richard Bennett Hall’s will of 1802 devised his property to his son Francis Magruder Hall, who devised the property to his son Francis Hall, who devised it to his son Col. Francis Magruder Hall (b. 1829), who devised it to his son Julian Steuart Hall in his will dated March 15, 1905.18 The ruins of the house called Partnership (PG: 74A-15) begun by Benjamin Hall II in the 1780s still stand west of Church Road, and the Hall Family Cemetery (PG: 71B-12) is located to the south of the subject property below Central Avenue (MD 214) and slightly to the east.

Julian Steuart Hall (1868-1960) used his land north of Central Avenue (MD 214) for tobacco cultivation. In July 1960 Hall conveyed a 50-acre tract to Frederick and Frances Watkins. The land was improved with a two-story tenant house located approximately at 1122 Delcastle Court, accessed from Central Avenue by a 500-foot long drive. A tobacco barn straddled today’s Danbury Drive at the locations of numbers 1004, 1008 and 1007. Julian Hall died just five months after selling his property to Mr. and Mrs. Watkins. The 1960 deed specifies that “all crops raised on said property during the year 1960 shall be the property of the said Julian S. Hall, owner.”19 (After 1961, the Watkins’ leased a large portion of the acreage to a tenant farmer who continued to cultivate it for tobacco.20) Hall is buried in the Hall Family Cemetery (PG: 71B-12). His occupation was listed as “farmer” in the 1920 census, when he was then 50 years old; his wife Estelle (Berry) Hall was then 45. Estelle died in 1952 and is buried in Saint Barnabas Church Cemetery (PG: 79-59).

Frederick Lewis Watkins, Jr. (1905-1998) known as “Fred” was born in Washington, D.C. He worked in and later ran his family’s lumber and hardware business, the F. L. Watkins Company in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. F. L. Watkins began as grocery store in 1917. In the early days, Watkins operated more as a general store, selling a range of items from chicken feed to English broadcloth shirts. The store stayed open late in the evening to serve ham sandwiches for railroad passengers on their way from Washington, D.C. to the Chesapeake Bay shore. The town post office was in the basement. Later the store diversified into a hardware, coal and lumber supplier. After his father Frederick Lewis Watkins, Sr. (1875-1941) died, Frederick Jr. inherited the family business and an it for 50 years. The store operated until the late 1990s. Watkins also served on the board of the Seat Pleasant Bank. Watkins married Frances Elizabeth Penkert (1908-1997) in 1926. Mrs. Watkins was also a Washington, D.C. native. Both were longtime parishioners of St. Margaret’s Catholic Church in Seat Pleasant.24 With his mother, Helena Watkins, Fred Watkins also owned several parcels in the Oakmont subdivision in Seat Pleasant, which the family sold over time. Watkins’ father, Frederick L. Watkins, Sr. was much admired for building housing for low-income black families starting in 1938 in the Jefferson Heights neighborhood on the northern border of Seat Pleasant. Frederick Watkins Jr. finished the project after his father’s death. In 1978 the Watkins’ were honored at a Jefferson Heights fortieth anniversary reunion. Fred Watkins was a successful businessman and the Watkins’ were fashionably dressed party-goers and party-givers; period photos clearly show them enjoying their life and their house.

In 1939, Fred and Frances Watkins purchased 20 acres known as “Largo” south of Central Avenue and built a house for their family sometime shortly after that. In 1945 Fred and his mother purchased an additional 15 acres to the east. The property today has no address, but the area comprises the loop of the MD 214 off-ramp to Truman Drive and the Arbor West condominiums. The house was a side-gabled frame dwelling with a gabled wing and two-story porch and was approached by a 750-foot-long driveway from Central Avenue. Three barns and a frame cottage, some of which may have dated from before the construction of the house, were located to the south.30 The house, with its Colonial Revival form, dignified approach, and relative seclusion, possibly served as a model for their future house on Church Road. It was occupied by the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce until it was demolished circa 1995.

Sited near the new I-495 interchange, the Largo property soon became desirable as a location for dense development. According to John Petro, in 1960 developer Robert Warren Ammann structured a deal whereby Julian Hall would sell 50 acres of his land to the Watkins’ and they could build a new house, and Ammann would purchase Largo and allow the Watkins’ to live there for one year while the new house was being built. Doing business as Lord Fairfax, Ltd., a Maryland corporation, Ammann and his partners Sherman H. Hollingsworth and Nathan M. Lubar purchased both Largo parcels from the Watkins’ on September 9, 1960, with the deed specifying the Watkins’ were to retain possession of the dwelling house and yard for a period of one year.

The Watkins’ commissioned the Mount Rainier firm of Walton and Madden Architects to design their new house. Largely a designer of institutional buildings, Walton and Madden evolved from the firm Kea, Ross and Walton, which was changed to Ross and Walton when Paul Kea left the partnership in 1941. The firm became Ross, Walton and Madden in 195032 with the addition of partner Dennis William Madden, AIA (1921-2013) who had joined the firm in 1946. It became Walton and Madden in 1953 with the retirement from the partnership of R. Webster Ross.

In addition to the Watkins House, the firm’s known work in the county includes an addition to the County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro (1955, Colonial Revival); the Citizen’s Bank of Maryland in College Park/Hyattsville (PG: 68-26; 1956, International Style); the Hyattsville Fire Station (1958, Colonial Revival); Cumberland Hall at the University of Maryland (1962, Colonial Revival); WSSC Headquarters’ Addition (PG: 68- 82; 1963, International Style); the Salvation Army Corps Community Center in Hyattsville, (PG: 69-065; Prairie School/Modern); the Hyattsville Branch Library, (PG: 68-112; International Style); and the Red Cross Building in Hyattsville (1966, Colonial Revival). In 1969 Walton and Madden Architects, Cooper and Auerbach Architects and John M. Walton and Associates joined their firms and became Walton, Madden, Cooper and Auerbach, AIA.

Born in Hyattsville, senior partner John Macardell Walton, Sr. AIA (1912-2000) was also the senior partner of John M. Walton and Associates. (John M. Walton and Associates was located in Arlington, VA, and the firm’s work was restricted almost entirely to Virginia, especially Northern Virginia.35) Walton designed many buildings during his career, both commercial (shopping centers, malls, motels, and office buildings) and institutional (churches, schools, hospitals, courthouses) but also many private houses. In Prince George’s County, it is known that he designed a 1939 Colonial Revival residence for the Yates P. Boswells at 400 Jackson Avenue (now 6500 40th Avenue in University Park). Although much smaller, the house shares some features with the subject property, including the corbelled chimney and portico balustrade. He also designed a number of houses in the National Register District of College Heights Estates (PG: 66-30) including 3917 Calverton Drive for the Arthur Seidenspinners.

From 1955 until 1990, Mr. Walton owned and lived at the National Historic Landmark Poplar Hill on His Lordship’s Kindness (PG: 81A-1) a 1784 five-part Georgian house in Clinton. The property is now owned by a foundation established by the Waltons. Walton’s son John M. Walton, Jr. relates that, overwhelmingly, his father’s favorite style of architecture was Georgian Revival or early American revival. Together, he and his wife Sara “shared and enjoyed a mutual love of early American history, architecture, antiques and historic preservation.” Walton designed the 1950 Georgian Revival house Drumsheugh (PG: 73-34) for the late Judge Ralph Powers. Drumsheugh, located off Largo Road and now part of a subdivision of the same name, is more traditionally interpreted but very similar in overall character and setting to the Watkins House. Although other examples are unknown at this time, Walton appears to have been the architect of choice in the county for those who shared his appreciation for Georgian and Colonial Revival styles and could afford to build expansively.

Check Our New MLS Search!