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The Annual Maryland House & Garden Pilgrimage

by Matthew Wexler
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Monday Mar 17, 2014
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The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage tours run from April 26 to May 31.
The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage tours run from April 26 to May 31.  (Source:Jack Thompson)

The annual Maryland House & Garden Pilgrimage (MHGP) returns for six weekends this spring from Saturday, April 26 through Saturday, May 31. A Maryland tradition for 77 years, the Pilgrimage offers the opportunity to explore some of Maryland’s most fascinating and noteworthy properties, including the grave of a man who played a key role in the creation of our national anthem, and other landmarks of great import in the War of 1812.

The 2014 tour includes about 50 private homes, gardens, farms, churches and historic sites across five areas in Maryland. They are Prince George’s County (Saturday, April 26); Baltimore County/Parkton (Sunday, May 4); Talbot County (Saturday, May 10); Calvert County (Saturday, May 17) and Kent County (Saturday, May 31). Each tour is $30 when purchased in advance. Lunches will be available on all tours.

The annual spring tours are a central component of MHGP’s efforts to cultivate awareness of Maryland’s rich architectural and cultural heritage, from historic to contemporary settings. Each year, proceeds from the tour support designated preservation projects in each host community. To date, the Pilgrimage has raised more than $1 million for the preservation and restoration of architecturally significant properties throughout the State of Maryland while entertaining and informing many thousands of tour-goers.

"In this 77th year, we are proud to present so many unique and vastly different types of properties," said Meredith Boren, Chairman, Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage.

"In addition to getting a glimpse of the important role that these individual counties played in the history not only of our region, but of the nation as a whole, guests on the tours will explore Prince George’s County’s War of 1812 landmarks, experience examples of both white and African American one-room schoolhouses in Calvert County, see an inn that offers a visual explanation of the term "bar and grille" (which does not involve the cooking of food) in Parkton (Baltimore County), enjoy the flora and fauna of Talbot County and take in the beauty of a church and grounds that date back as many as 400 years in Kent County," Boren added.

Guests will be offered lunch (at an additional cost) on each of the county tours. "Talbot, Prince George’s, Kent and Baltimore County pilgrims may choose to have a delicious box or buffet luncheon served at a historic church or museum, while Calvert tour-goers can enjoy a gourmet lunch from The Laughing Pickle beneath the shade of a tent overlooking the Patuxent River," Boren said.

Highlights for each of the jurisdictions on the 2014 tour include the following:

Prince George’s County
The tour in Prince George’s County offers a mini history lesson about the war of 1812 and follows part of the Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and Byway. Among the highlights of the 15 attractions is Bellefields, the main block of which was built in the first half of the 18th century. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was the home of Major Benjamin Oden during the War of 1812 and the site of a meeting between Brigadier General William H. Winder and then-Secretary of State James Monroe during the war.

Another site of interest along the tour is the grave of Dr. William Beanes, who was taken hostage by the British and confined to a vessel on the Chesapeake Bay. Francis Scott Key helped to negotiate his release, and in the process was given a front row seat to the British attack on Baltimore. When the bombing ceased, Key saw that the tattered American flag still waved, prompting him to compose the lyrics that would eventually become our National Anthem.

The tour concludes at Darnall’s Chance, another 18th century home that played a role in the war, where locally produced wine and cheese will be served.


Kent County  (Source:Jack Thompson)

Kent County

There are eight historic stops on the Kent County tour. Discover what "222 bushels of good merchantable wheat" would buy in 1780 when touring the Simon Wickes house, a Georgian home purchased with that quantity of grain. The house was built into the riverbank and is nearly one story higher on one side. Flemish bond was used below the water table on the façade as well as on three other walls. Glazed headers were used in the bond on the northeast gable, creating an archaic effect in relation to the all header bond on the street façade. There was a porch on the river side, probably with a stair to the ground level. There is evidence that the street entrance had a deck with benches flanking the door.

Today, the owner has opened her riverside gardens to the tour providing weary pilgrims with an opportunity for quiet repose in a shaded glen comfortably cooled with a constant sea breeze from the Chester River. Among the additional stops on the tour is 360 year-old St. Paul’s Parish, one of the two earliest surviving Anglican churches on the Eastern Shore.


  (Source:Jack Thompson)

Baltimore County/Parkton

A standout on this eight-stop tour is the Castle Calder. While never an actual castle, the local reference to this home descends from Capt. James Calder who was awarded a vast acreage of land in Baltimore County upon his arrival in Maryland from his native Scotland. The original dwelling burned and was replaced by the two-story brick Federal style home in 1876 which was lived in by many generations of the Calder family. Calders are undoubtedly included in the guest log of Wiseburg Inn, in existence since 1810, and another highlight of the pilgrimage.

Considered a complete "innyard" - basically a one-stop shop for travelers providing food, lodging, horse changing, sleighs, animal tending and entertainment - the popular inn was the center of community, politics, news and social activities. The current owner retained the original wooden grille work that protected the liquor, which was traditionally locked at night, thus giving rise to the phrase "bar and grille."


Talbot County  (Source:Jack Thompson)

Talbot County

The Historical Society’s Gardens are the first official stop on a tour that boasts breathtaking flora and landscaping at almost all of the eight venues. The River Bank offers an explosion of color inside and out, with vibrantly hued needlework adorning the rooms and a riot of blooms ringing the pool and croquet court. Wheatlands features gardens of a difference kind, offering 20 raised beds for organic vegetables and greens. The grounds at Lombardy include many trees and boxwoods that are believed to predate the original house, built in 1775.

The tour concludes at the Wye Heights Plantation where the Federal style plantation house is complemented by 10 acres of formal gardens. Of special note are the brick-walled garden rooms of fragrant roses, lilacs, wisteria and boxwood that are connected by beautiful gates and archways. The Doric portico commands a rolling view of lawn to the Wye River interrupted by a "ha-ha," a recessed landscape design element to keep grazing animals, in this case Scottish Black Sheep and English Fallow Deer, out of the garden.


Calvert County  (Source:Jack Thompson)

Calvert County

This 11-stop tour offers a glimpse into Calvert’s past - including two very different examples of one-room schoolhouses. The first, the Old Wallville School, was used to educate thousands of African American students beginning in the 1880s. The school was in operation until 1934 and is one of few such structures still in existence in the state.

Originally located in Wallville, the building was rescued from destruction and relocated to its Prince Frederick site. The restoration was based on oral histories collected from former students and the last principal, and reflects the school’s appearance in the 1930s.

Later in the tour is the Port Republic School No.7, an all white institution, which was built around 1876 and in continuous use until 1932. The Calvert Retired Teachers Association restored the facility in 1976. Furnished with period pieces including desks, text books, slates, pictures, wall maps, and a pot-bellied stove, the school is now a living history project for area children.

The other sites on the tour include Spout, Tynewydd and Windy Hill Farm, the latter featuring gardens that date back to the early 1900s, and include daylily, bearded iris, herbs and virgin forest trees.

Purchase tickets and get more information at www.mhgp.org or call 410-821-6933.


Matthew Wexler is EDGE’s National Style and Travel Editor. More of his writing can be found at www.roodeloo.com. He is also a trained chef and currently writing a food memoir.

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