History and Stories
The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage
continues to draw from Maryland’s
rich history that sets the scene for our annual spring tours.
We hope you enjoy the following stories which share a glimpse into the past.
Talbot County, Maryland is one of the oldest European settlements in the New World. With more than 600 miles of tidal shoreline, more than any other county in the United States, it has a long and rich maritime history.
The first settlers arrived in what is now Talbot County in the 1630’s and established tobacco plantations along the shores of its many rivers. The Choptank,Wye, Tred Avon, and Miles River, which was formerly known as the St. Michaels River, all allow for waterways and ease of travel. The county was established in 1661 and named for Lady Grace Talbot, sister of the second Lord Baltimore. At that time, it incorporated land which now makes up parts of Queen Anne’s County and Caroline County.
Many of Talbot’s early settlers were Quakers, seeking a haven from persecution. The Third Haven Meeting House, completed in 1684, is still in use as a house of worship. It is one of the oldest religious building still in use.
Easton, previously known as “Talbot Court House” was established as the county seat in 1711. Oxford was mandated by the Maryland legislation in 1694 as the only port of entry to the Eastern Shore. It remained a booming port for 75 years before losing shipping to Baltimore. The towns of St Michaels, Tilghman Island and Wye Mills continue to share a rich history in the county and draw tourists. Beautiful farmland, quaint towns and an abundance of water make it a favorite for many Marylanders.
Currently, sixty-two properties in Talbot County are on the National Register, including the Wye Grist Mill, circa 1682, located in the Village of Wye Mills. The Wye Mill is a water driven grist mill that continues to grind and sell flour products today. Wye Mills was also the site of the Wye Oak that stood for 450 years before meeting its demise in 2002 during a thunderstorm. At that time it measured just over 31 feet in circumference.
The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage features tours in Talbot County which are carefully run and executed by volunteers from the Talbot County Garden Club. This has proven to be one of our most successful tours, given the appealing homes on the shore and welcoming residents. Proceeds from the tour are used each year for designated preservation projects identified by the Talbot County Garden Club.
Newtowne Manor House
St. Mary's County
St. Mary’s County, the first area discovered by Englishmen and women on Maryland Day, March 25, 1634 is a place to visit during the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage (MHGP) tours. This is where the new colony that would become Maryland was established. Leonard Calvert and 140 fellow pilgrims brought to our State the belief in religious freedom. A large cross erected on St. Clements Island in the Potomac River marks the site of the original landing and first celebration of mass by these Roman Catholic colonists. Afterwards they relocated to St. Mary's City, the first seat of Maryland's colonial government prior to moving the capital to Annapolis in 1694/5.
Newtowne Manor House is a perennial favorite on the MHGP tour. Its’ fascinating evolution from a 1720 structure to house the fledgling Jesuit community to a Georgian two and a half story unoccupied brick building illustrates the history of the rights to practice religious freedom in the Free State of Maryland. MHGP works in conjunction with local garden clubs and non-profits to showcase architecturally significant properties and gardens in Maryland. St. Mary’s Garden Club showcased Newtowne Manor House in the 2018 St. Mary’s County tour and proceeds from the tour helped the continued efforts to restore the Manor House.
The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage is fortunate to have private home owners and non-profit organizations share their properties. It is a unique opportunity to see homes built on the water’s edge, such as Dragonfly on Breton Bay, where tour attendees enjoyed its series of garden rooms.
We look forward to a 2022 MHGP tour, so set your Spring clocks a year from now! You will learn about Maryland’s history and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us in this “Land of Pleasant Living.”
Mansion at Haberdeventure, Credit: National Park Service
Charles County has a long affiliation with the pilgrimage and their willingness to share their homes and gardens. Throughout the years, many have appreciated these tours. Proceeds help Charles County residents maintain historically-significant projects, recommended by the tour committees.
Charles County’s origins date back to 1608 when Captain John Smith explored the Potomac River region and discovered an Indian town named Potopaco, today known as Port Tobacco. Other explorers followed and by 1650 the area grew into a prosperous county due to the cash crop tobacco and accessible shipping waterways.
The county grew, and to date, approximately 90 of the original dwellings are still standing. These include private homes, museums, and other carefully preserved structures.
Charles County first became involved with the Pilgrimage in 1940. After a hiatus due to the war years, tours resumed in 1948. The Charles County Garden Club began their affiliation with the tours in 1961, and that partnership continues. Every third year, they traditionally share a spring tour with their neighboring counties, St. Marys and Calvert.
This is a country with a bountiful and engaging history. John Hanson, who was president of the Continental Congress, resided at Mulberry Grove, which is a private home today.
Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, also made his home at Habre de Venture, in Charles County. The surrounding property is now a national park. The MHGP continues to enjoy this special relationship with a county so rich in its beauty and history.
Credit: Hammond-Harwood House Museum
Maryland’s capital, Annapolis, played a significant role in the early years of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage.
In 1937, senator Millard E. Tydings recognized the pilgrimage with the following sentiment, “The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage has undertaken a very worthy cause of aiding the restoration and preservation of the capital of Maryland -- the city of Annapolis.”
For three years, the pilgrimage was able to support projects throughout the city. However, the Hammond Harwood House was then chosen as the sole beneficiary and remained so until it became a more self–supporting museum. At that time, other worthy restoration projects throughout the state were able to benefit from the Pilgrimage proceeds.
From 1941-1945 (the war years) there were no garden tours. While the previous four years required a shuttering of the organization’s activities, in April of 1946, the Pilgrimage organized seven days of tours, which included 14 counties in the state of Maryland. The Anne Arundel County tour featured an opening of the Government House in Annapolis.
The following year, Governor William Preston Lane and Mrs. Lane graciously opened their home to all ticket holders for tea.
Beginning in 1955 cruises on the Chesapeake Bay were offered. The S.S. Tolchester, carried pilgrims from Baltimore to Annapolis for $3.50, which included a tour of Annapolis. In 1972, pilgrims were ferried from Baltimore to Annapolis, where they were greeted by guides from “Historic Annapolis”. They enjoyed a walking tour through the city, ending with tea at the Hammond-Harwood House.
Continuing the tradition, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County both offer tours showcasing their historic properties, homes and gardens.
This year marks the ninety-first anniversary of tours organized and sponsored by the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage Committee. The first tour was held in 1930 and, with the exception of four years at the beginning of its history and three “war” years, the Pilgrimage has been part of springtime tradition in Maryland.The continued popularity and growth of the tours is testimony to the foresight and persistence of a few Baltimore women inspired by friends in Virginia who organized Virginia Garden Week to raise money for restoring the gardens at Kenmore, home of George Washington’s sister. The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland suggested that Maryland open houses and gardens following the week in Virginia.
Although the idea was totally new, owners of many of the most interesting houses in Maryland were persuaded to share their houses with the public for a day. Fifty cents was charged for admission to a single house and a hard-back guide book was available for one dollar. In 1930 there were many country roads which were still unpaved and Schedules of the Chesapeake Bay ferries were listed in the first Maryland tour book. One must realize the undertaking and time involved to reach the Eastern Shore, those first visitors were pilgrims indeed!
There have been wars, riots, gas shortages and inflation, and at the same time great advances in technology and the building of super highways have been made. Constant, however, have been the hospitality and generosity of the homeowners who shared their collections , their furnishings and their gardens with the public. Visitors have been enriched with a deeper appreciation of history, architecture, garden design and decorative arts while supporting historic preservation in the state of Maryland.
- Summarized from History of The Maryland House and Garden Pigrimage by Hally Brent Dame p. 1987
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