It's always good to have nearby places that "feel faraway," but many such favorite places have become incorporated into Washington sprawl over the past few years. We used to drive down Route 210 in Maryland to Cherry Hill Farm to pick peaches and strawberries. Now, instead, there is a subdivision on the farmland and, more jarring, the National Harbor complex and MGM Casino between us in Alexandria and the former farm site. Of course, previous people made the same complaint, including probably about our circa-1970s neighborhood.
Be that as it may, when we have only a few hours but a hankering to see something different, we now have to go farther--to Accokeek in southern Prince George's or to Charles, Calvert, or Saint Mary's Counties. That's what we did today--left around 8:30 am, back by 1:30 or so, with some history and a nice waterside lunch thrown in.
(For local people interested in the route, see the end of this post.)
Thomas Stone Historic Site
No, we hadn't heard of him either. And apparently business is slow, because the brown NPS sign on Rose Hill Road very largely proclaims "Free Admission." It's also only open Thursday to Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm, from March to December. But a lovely setting it is.
Stone was a lawyer and plantation owner who was one of four Marylanders to sign the Declaration of Independence. The short video described him as "moderate," in that he initially hoped to reach an accommodation with the British, as did many others in the "middle colonies." The video also described him as quiet and not one to seek the limelight. Hence--historical obscurity.
The side wings of the house are original, the central part reconstructed after a fire in the 1970s. According to the ranger, the property stayed in the family until 1936. The Park Service purchased the land after the fire and opened the site to the public in 1997.
Stone was born near Port Tobacco, our next stop. A small enclave that consists of a reconstructed courthouse, several homes, and outbuildings are what's left of a town that, according to one of the markers, grew, declined, grew again, and declined again. It was the county seat for more than 150 years and was a large enough seaport to make it onto world maps. The navigable waterway silted in, as did Port Tobacco's fate.
When we were there, an archaeological excavation was underway in front of Stagg Hall, one of the original buildings. They had already excavated what was once a printing shop; details about a nearby site, where the group was working when we showed up, is less clear (and a more modern septic field is not helping any). We chatted briefly with archaeologists Esther Reed and Jim Gibb about the current project, as well as work that took place around 2010 or so. (Jim pointed us to a blog that this previous project maintained regularly for several years, with lots of Port Tobacco history.)
During the Civil War, this area was pro-Confederate. A spy, referred to on all the signage as "Miss Olivia Floyd," lived nearby on a farm called Rose Hill. More famously, George Atzerodt, one of the Lincoln conspirators, lived in town, and several meetings took place. Jim said the exact location of Atzerodt's home remains unknown.
Where We Went
A nice daytrip itinerary: From the Wilson Bridge, Route 210 (Indian Head Highway) to Livingston Road (the one beyond Bryants Road in Accokeek; there are several Livingston Roads on 210). Left onto Bumpy Oak Road (with names like that, you can see why we liked the route). Right onto Marshall Corner Road, which becomes Rose Hill Road. That's where you see the sign for the Thomas Stone site. After visiting, take a right to get back onto Rose Hill. A few short jogs take you to Port Tobacco's historic area at 8450 Commerce Street; signs point you to it. From there, we had lunch looking over the Port Tobacco River at a marina restaurant, again also well-signed.