60 – Magnolia Plantation, circa 1800-1833, south Washington County, MD
In the southernmost tip of the county, Valley Road angles toward a bend in the Potomac River, crossing a single arch stone bridge over Israel Creek. A little west on Valley Road and about a half mile south of Garrett’s Mill, a black three-board fence edges the perimeter of a farm. On a level spot at the foot of Elk Ridge rests Magnolia Plantation, a yellow-painted brick home, two stories, five bays, surrounded by 132 acres of rolling land that meet Harper’s Ferry National Monument on the southwest.
The house at Magnolia Plantation is set on finely coursed fieldstone foundations; and the front (east) elevation is laid in Flemish bond, with the others laid in common bond. The main entrance is in the central bay and has a heavy, wooden lintel. A wide, eight-pane transom tops broad double doors flanked by sidelights and Doric colonettes. The four panels of each door are decorated with raised, oval medallions, as are the panels in the jambs and beneath the sidelights. The cornice beneath the eave of the front elevation of the house is trimmed with decorative molding and ornate pierced fretwork. Originally, a portico sheltered the front entrance, but now there is a Victorian porch with simple round columns. The large windows have six-over-six double hung sashes under narrow soldier brick lintels. Many have heavy wooden lintels beneath the brick ones. This appears to be an original feature, but it is an unusual construction technique. Many panes of glass in the windows are original.
The main block of the house has a center hall with rooms on each side. This is also the plan for the second floor as well as the basement where the partitions between rooms are stone foundations. These foundations support the interior brick walls of the upper two stories. A gently rising, suspended staircase, cantilevered into the walls, winds from the right side of the front hall into a balcony in the attic. The balusters are slender and square. The handrail is round, terminating in a volute above the newel post. The tread of the first step, which holds the base of the newel, is shaped to reflect the curve of the volute above, with a deep arc cut out of the back of step. A finger rail on the stair wall reflects the handrail and chair rails throughout.
Each of the rooms has a fireplace, all but one with original mantels. These mantels are all similar, with a wide reeded, convex molding spanning each mantel below the shelf. The other moldings vary in complexity depending upon the importance of the room. In the living room, reeded pillarettes and ornate trim moldings decorate the mantel. Most of the floors are original random-width pine, and the original whitewash still exists under two layers of wallpaper that have detached from the walls in many places. The woodwork is deeply molded, and architraves around windows and doors are finished with corner blocks, some decorated, some plain.
Behind the main block of the house is the summer kitchen, a long room that was originally a one-story wing. At some point, the roof was raised to accommodate the second level. This caused two windows in the second floor of the main house to be closed. This wing still retains much original fabric.
Beyond the house, surrounded by a stone wall, is a small cemetery with many gravestones still standing. The earliest marker bears a date of 1797, and burials continued into the 20th century.
Henry Boteler came to Washington County from Prince George’s County with his parents, the first white settlers in the Brownsville area. He was a descendant of Charles Boteler (1635-1685), Deputy Surveyor of Calvert County, Clerk of the Lower House of Assembly and Attorney of the Provincial Court until his death. Henry married Sarah and fathered seven sons, one of whom was Thomas Boteler, a man who acquired large western Maryland land holdings in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Thomas built Magnolia Plantation sometime in the first third of the 19th century on parts of tracts called Keep Trieste and King Cole. Boteler died in 1834, and Magnolia Plantation remained in the Boteler family until 1853, when the farm with its 189 acres was sold to a neighboring property owner Christian Barr for $6,630.
The property suffered a period of neglect, and the present owner Norman Singer has sought to stem the damage. He built the three-board fence around the fields, planted the young magnolias at the entrance, removed the fake stone asphalt siding, painted the house and placed I-beams in the basement to carry the structure and remove the severe sag in the upper floors. This and much more has been done to restore the property.
The sophisticated architecture and elegant decorative detail found in Magnolia Plantation reflect the importance of the Boteler family. The signatures that decorate the walls in the attic put a very human face on the old house. One reads:
Jan 1, 1891 A dance at Magnolia Plantation
And what a glorious time all had
Nettie Boteler, Nellie Boteler
May Newcomer, Bess Newcomer
here New Years Night
It’s nice to know that Magnolia is ready to celebrate many more New Year’s Nights.
Epilogue: Alice and Dennis Kelly purchased Magnolia Plantation in early 1996, during the blizzard that covered the county with three feet of snow. There was neither heat nor electricity in the front of the house and these utilities were the first priority. Dennis notes ruefully that electrical service had been originally brought to the barn, then, almost as an afterthought run to the house. The Kellys continued to live in Rockville, Maryland, while Alice supervised restoration of the interior of the house. Alice was well qualified to do this as she had been on Montgomery County’s Historic District Commission for a number of years.
The steam radiator system was converted to forced hot water and the house was wired to meet modern codes. The one and a quarter inch thick floors of heart pine, walnut and locust were sanded for the first time and finished. A modern kitchen was built in the first floor of the wing at the back and the floor of the level above was removed over the rear of the kitchen to create a cathedral ceiling. Alternate second-story floor joists were left in place, as was the forward part of this level, which is now a loft that overlooks the kitchen across a simple banister.
A sunroom with a glass roof was added to the southwest side of the kitchen, as was a patio. Corrugated metal was replaced with a standing seam roof and skylights were added in the attic rooms and above the main stairs. The broad doors between the two parlors were removed to open the space. These doors are stored in the basement. Only a few of the original windows had to be removed because they were beyond repair, and a few were replaced when air conditioning units were built into the bottom half of the openings.
All the hardware was missing from the house and had to be replaced. The massive box lock on the front door is a Ball & Ball reproduction, but the cost of supplying the rest of the doors with similar latches was prohibitive, so sympathetic modern ones were purchased. A spandrel wall was added to support the hanging staircase on the first floor.
The Kellys have three adult children, and they have subdivided the plantation to give each a place to build. Their son Shawn and his wife Erin recently broke ground for their new home at Magnolia Plantation; this occurred on the second birthday of their son Brendan.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, September 4,1994, as the 60th in the series