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Rose Hill

January 29, 1998|By PAT SCHOOLEY

All photos by Kevin G. Gilbery / staff photographer

click any of the images on the following pages for larger versions

Rose Hill

Editor's note: This is the 100th in a series of articles on the historic and architectural treasures of Washington County, an area with more listed sites than any other in Maryland.

Outside Williamsport, on Spielman Road, massive, white, wooden gates open to an avenue lined with ancient river maples. Well back from the road, this drive circles in front of a magnificent brick home. Huge boxwoods grow about the lawn and the largest American basswood in the county, more than 90 feet tall, stands before the house.

The house's roof is hipped with a roof balustrade and a central pavilion. The cornice has dentil molding. A beautiful semi-circular fanlight set in a brick arch crowns the double-doored entrance and side lights. The windows have six-over-six sashes and are topped with flat keystone arches. Salmon-colored brick is laid in Flemish bond, and there is a decorative wooden belt course between floors. On the left is a lower, two-story wing set back from the main block.

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This is Rose Hill, probably the most photographed, best-known home in Washington County. It has been on every Washington County Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage since 1962 and again will be open this spring.

Rose Hill, still a 210-acre working farm, was part of Conococheague Manor, the 14,500 acre tract once held by Gen. Samuel Ringgold. Ringgold sold a 554-acre parcel, which included the Rose Hill acreage to Thomas Owen Williams "of Prince Georges County" in 1802. The deed describes Ringgold as a farmer and Williams as a planter. Williams paid the stupendous sum of 6,550 pounds for this property, almost four times what land was bringing then. This would suggest that there were substantial improvements on the property at the time of the sale.

Varle's 1808 map shows a pictograph with a hip roof and a wing on the left marked with the name T. Williams, indicating that Rose Hill had been built by that year.

Tradition says that Rose Hill was built in 1802 or 1803 by T.O. Williams' son, Otho Williams, but the name on the pictograph and the price of the property make this unlikely.

Another tradition names Benjamin H. Latrobe as the architect of Rose Hill, or at least a portion of it, but no written record yet found supports this. Unlike most Washington County homes which were vernacular - plain, serviceable structures - Rose Hill is a grand home built in the Adam style.

Robert Adam was an English architect who traveled to Italy to study classical buildings. Following these visits, he and others popularized a number of design elements such as swags, garlands, urns and some geometrics, which they had seen in the ancient buildings. This refinement of the Georgian style became known as the Federal or English Adam style and was used extensively in this country from 1780 to 1820.

The first American architects appeared during this period, and Latrobe was among them. His work was in this style, and he was supposed to have known Gen. Ringgold through common friends. At one time, Latrobe's grandson, the Rev. Henry Onderdonk, lived at Fountain Rock, a grand home on land that is now St. James School, and family tradition was that Latrobe had designed that building, which was similar in some respects to Rose Hill. Latrobe may have designed Rose Hill, or it could have been built from a pattern book of the time.

the entrance hall. . .

stable construction. . .




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