In 1987, off Maryland route 228 in Charles County, an old dilapidated house quietly waited for a bulldozer to come by and finish what the years had slowly been trying to do; level it. But fate had another plan for this house, one you wouldn’t have given a second look at had you driven by it, for within it’s collapsing exterior walls stood sills and joists, mortise and tenons, riven clapboard and other tell tale signs of construction that happened sans electricity.
With the help of the Phillip family who owned the property and the home and countless others, particularly J. Richard Rivoire an architectural historian, the house which has become known as the “Laurel Branch” house was carefully disassembled during the summer of 1987 and moved to the National Colonial Farm where it could be reconstructed and become the center point of the Accokeek Foundation’s interpretive program.
Believed to have been originally built in the last quarter of the 18th century, the Laurel Branch house was a simple one story, two-room dwelling of modest dimensions and appearance. Deeper than wide, room behind room and exterior chimneys at one end the house was typical of an architectural style popular in lower Southern Maryland from the second half of the 18th century well into the first half of the 19th century. Homes of this style and construction were often owned by trades people or small landowners of modest means. As typical as this house is it is also in many ways atypical.
What makes this home more interesting is the way it was constructed. Much of it is far less “sophisticated” than one might think. Its sills and joists were laid without any support and riven clapboard of less than ideal dimensions was used in the construction of the roof and attic partitions. There is evidence that the ceiling rafters and joists were made from improperly dried wood and warped shortly after construction. No doubt other homes were built using these shortcuts, and no wonder only one, Laurel Branch, survived.
If there is one aspect of the house that is the most interesting and helps us date it more precisely it is the two small, cater-cornered fireplaces. Laurel Branch is the only example of this room behind room plan with such fireplaces recorded in Charles County or as far as is known, in all of Southern Maryland. This design of corner fireplaces was common in the area between 1740 and 1770 and given all the other data the house is generally agreed to have been built circa 1770.