Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Riversdale Mansion (College Park, MD)

Just 9 miles down the road from the College Park Airport is Riversdale Mansion, built between 1801 and 1806 by Belgian businessman Henri Joseph Stier.

The estate became the home of Stier's daughter Rosalie and her husband George Calvert, the grandson of Charles Calvert (Fifth Lord Baltimore).

Rosalie was given title to the house by her father, as well as placed in charge of his American business interests, and her extensive correspondence with her family provides a well-documented look at life in the period up to her early death in 1821 at age 43.

Rosalie and George's son Charles Benedict Calvert would donate land from the estate in 1858 to found the Maryland Agricultural College, today known as the University of Maryland.

Riversdale Mansion Tours
Although the Georgian-style house is somewhat plain on the outside, it has a much more ornate Federal interior decor.

Today visitors can take short tours of the house provided by docents. The house is in various stages of preservation and reconstruction, and the most striking elements are where the vivid colors of the wall paint and wallpaper have been revealed or reproduced, including George Calvert's study.

George Calvert's study

In front of the house is one of the original cannons from either the Ark or the Dove, the two ships that brought the original settlers to Maryland in 1634.

Every two weeks on a Sunday volunteers from the Riversdale Kitchen Guild demonstrate open hearth cooking using produce from the estate garden and authentic 19th Century techniques and utensils.

Open hearth cooking

Riversdale is also usually the site of commemorative events for the War of 1812's Battle of Bladensburg (Aug. 28, 1814) which occurred about 7 miles south of the mansion at a site that is today Waterfront Park in Bladensburg, MD.

Waterfront Park in Bladensburg, MD is where the battle began

In the battle an American force comprised largely of militia was placed in poor position and with tinkering from Secretary of State James Monroe, causing them to be outflanked by the experienced British veterans of the Napoleonic Wars.

Rosalie Stier Calvert wrote of the fear engendered by the invasion and the sounds of the cannon during the battle, when the British intent was still unknown.

This pedestrian bridge is located where the Americans sought to prevent
the British from crossing the Anacostia River over a bridge

The resulting rout through the streets of Washington (disparagingly called The Bladenburg Races and the "most humiliating episode in American history") cleared the way for the British to sack and burn Washington DC, with President Madison fleeing the White House with dinner still set on the table.

(The White House received its name from this event, when it was painted white afterwards to hide the burn marks.)

The only effective American resistance at Bladensburg was made by 400 sailors and marines under Commodore Joshua Barney, whose home today sits at the southeast intersection of I-95 and MD-32 near Emerson.

American Redemption
Fortunately for the American cause the British invasion of Baltimore two weeks later was stopped at The Battle of North Point, with British commander Major General Ross killed by a sniper.

After that abortive attempt the British fleet tried to attack by water, but was unable to bypass Fort McHenry despite a 25-hour bombardment.

Seeing the American flag over the Fort the next morning, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the poem that became the American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.

A few months later, the same British fleet would form part of the invasion force that was resoundingly defeated by General Andrew Jackson on January 8, 1815 in the Battle of New Orleans -- after the peace accords had already been signed in Europe, unbeknownst to the combatants.

Getting There

Riversdale Mansion
4811 Riverdale Road
Riverdale Park, MD 20737

Hours: Fridays and Sundays from 12 noon to 3:30 PM. Tours cost $3 (adults), $2 (seniors), $1 (students), free for children under 4.

Directions: Take I-95/495 to exit 23, Kenilworth Avenue (MD-201) South. Go 3 miles and turn right at MD-410 (East-West Highway) for 0.5 mile, then turn left at 49th Avenue. Proceed 2 blocks to the gates of the estate and turn right onto Riverdale Road, then left after one block onto 48th Avenue where the entrance to the Visitor Center lot is located.

Park in the small parking lot next to the Visitor Center.


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