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.
Route 228 is a remarkable little road with deep historic roots. It was part of an 18th century road system that connected the two port towns of Port Tobacco in Charles county and Piscataway in Prince George’s county. Since these two towns were of the utmost importance to all local colonial tobacco planters it didn’t come as a surprise that there were homes in the area. What was a surprise is that within the shell of a run-down home, an 18th century house still stood, and one so…uniquely southern Maryland.
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 our 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. It’s 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 “short cuts” 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-corned 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.
Though only 50% of the original structure was able to be incorporated in the home that currently resides upon the exhibit area, the Laurel Branch house remains a rare and treasured example of a specific point in time and of a specific way of life so important to understanding southern Maryland’s past. We invite you come and walk through the home that has been faithfully and accurately furnished and see for yourself what living meant 241 years ago.