If you had all the money in the world and wanted to add a bathroom to your 230 year old Federal era manor, is this …
… what you would do? Even taking into account that you were doing it in the decoratively challenged 1960s (think avocado green appliances)?
Mount Harmon Plantation at World’s End (as the area was labeled on a 17th century map), in Earlesville, Maryland, is a former tobacco plantation anchored by a circa 1730 house. The property was bought by Marguerite duPont de Villiers Boden (of THOSE duPonts) in 1963 and it was she who put that bathroom in. I have to admit, I’m always fascinated by the bathrooms of the rich (probably because the toilets are the same, whether it belongs to a Rockefeller, a duPont, or me).
I didn’t know much about the house before we got there. Patricia and I had spent the weekend in Chestertown and were looking for one last History Tourist site on Sunday, before we headed home. A property about 30 minutes north of Chestertown, that describes itself as “the northernmost colonial Tidewater plantation,” seemed to fit the bill.
The house had gone through the usual old house ups and down and was a wreck when Boden acquired it. The building restoration is 1960s Colonial Revival — basically whatever Boden found attractive, whether it was authentic or not. And it’s been left as it was when Boden lived there.
“Are the paint colors original?” I asked the guide, an art history grad student at the University of Delaware. I knew that colonial colors were brighter than most people realize, and these were so not Martha Stewart Williamsburg that I thought she might have had paint analysis done.
“No,” he said. “They’re just colors that she liked.” Ditto for the wall paper and the rest of the wall and window treatments. (Friend Kathie pointed out in her comment that they might not have had the ability to do that kind of analysis in the 60s, which hadn’t occurred to me).
The objects that she collected were stunning, all from the 18th century or before. The oldest was this 17th century slat painting of Arabella Stuart, fourth in line to the British throne. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London by James I for marrying without permission — as those close to the throne were required to do — and died there. Depending on where you stand, you see her face as young, middle-aged, or a skeleton.
The best thing about our Mount Harmon tour — after being told at countless other house museums that fire codes prohibit them taking us beyond the second floor — was that they took us through the third floor and up onto the widows walk. The walk isn’t original to the house — it’s a New England thing and southern houses didn’t have them — but it provided an amazing view of the beautiful grounds.
There’s a formal garden behind the house, with a large lake beyond. The lake is filled with water lilies that weren’t quite ready to bloom when we were there. There was to be a water lily festival at the site the following weekend and they were hoping for blooms by then. The Sassafras River runs in front of the house and we wandered down to the docks for a close-up of the river.
After Boden died, her youngest daughter inherited the property and the daughter, in turn, created and turned the property over to a nonprofit, which runs it today. The property has 250 acres and visitors are welcome to roam as much of it as they like. Between the house, the dependencies and the grounds, we spent many more hours there than we expected so we recommend at least three hours to do it justice.