Plantation appreciation

The entry to Mount Harmon Plantation, in Earleville, Md., leads two miles down a narrow gravel lane flanked by enormous sycamore and osage orange trees.

Driving through the tunnel of overhanging branches is to travel back in time to another era.Mount Harmo

The former tobacco plantation’s stately manor house, formal boxwood garden and 200 acres of meadow and pasture are situated at the end of a peninsula surrounded by three creeks of the Sassafras River. Known as “World’s End” on early maps, the area is a pristine reminder of our colonial past.

“There are few places where you can come to experience this window into tidewater, colonial and natural history,” says Paige Howard, Mount Harmon’s director of development and communication.

Mount Harmon has been kept largely in the same family for much of its history. It originated as a land grant of 350 acres to Godfrey Harmon by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, in 1651.

The manor house, which dates to 1730 and was restored in the 1970s, housed generations of prosperous tobacco farmers. Several of them sailed their own schooners to the British Isles with their crop and returned with furnishings and other necessities for the house and farm.

“It was a self-sufficient plantation community, with livestock, dairy, blacksmith, saw and grain mills, slaves and indentured servants,” says Howard. “Even the bricks for the manor house were made on the property.”

The house, a symmetrical Georgian 5-bay with Palladian windows, dentil molding and a widow’s walk, shows abundant evidence of the colonial good life.

When Mrs. Harry Clark Boden IV bought the property in 1963, she hired Albert Kruse, an architect from Wilmington, to restore the house. Boden, a direct descendent of the Louttit and George families, who were Mount Harmon’s early owners, acquired period furniture to reflect its colonial heritage.

Inside, visitors can see Georgian woodwork in the beautiful Chinese Chippendale stair railing (echoed in the widow’s walk above the house), Hepplewhite inlaid tables and hand-painted Chinese wallpaper.

“The furniture is nearly all antique 18th century and was collected specifically for Mount Harmon during the 1970s restoration to reflect the prominent Maryland and Philadelphia families who lived at the plantation during its heyday from 1760 to 1810,” says Howard.

Sitting atop a slight knoll, the house overlooks fields that slope gently down to the water, where in August the native yellow lotus are in full bloom.

Once planted with tobacco, the fields are now meadows lined with trails that link parts of the plantation, including a separate kitchen, formal boxwood garden and the tobacco prize house. The kitchen’s giant hearth is filled with colonial-era cooking implements including a “toe-stirrer,” an iron device used for bread that became the modern-day toaster.

Most rare is the intact prize house, a small wooden building on the banks of Foreman Creek where tobacco, rolled down from the fields in huge wooden casks, was then compressed from two casks into one by use of a giant wooden screw. From the prize house, the casks were loaded directly onto ships for transport to England.

Leading up to the house from the lotus-filled cove is a formal boxwood garden surrounded by serpentine brick walls inspired by a Thomas Jefferson design. Boden recreated the tidewater garden in her 1970s renovation.

Today, the robust plants are pruned to a natural shape, filling in along the perimeter and brick paths of the garden. With its sweeping, symmetrical staircases and views of both house and cove, the garden has become popular for outdoor weddings.

Since the founding of the Friends of Mount Harmon in 1997, there has been a tremendous amount of program development to promote this unique site.

Because it was donated to a natural preservation organization in 1974 by Boden, the Friends see their mission as preserving and interpreting the plantation for the public’s education and enjoyment. To that end they sponsor group tours, school programs in colonial history, and various fundraising events throughout the year. They also are trying to broaden the plantation’s appeal as a destination for naturalists and horticulturalists.

“This is our first season with an official site map and marked nature trails, which marks a major push to expand our nature programming,” says Howard.

Mount Harmon has also embarked on a partnership with Washington College’s (Chestertown, Md.) Archaeology Department to research the plantation’s history. Among the potential projects are examining and documenting archival evidence of the Tockwogh Indians, who lived along the Sassafras River. Some evidence points to the possibility of horse racing having taken place on the property.

“Mount Harmon is a significant intact tidewater landscape,” says Howard. She’s been thrilled to have had interns from Washington College spend this summer digitizing a portion of the archives, which will enable continuing research into the plantation’s rich history.

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