The Civil War, Slavery, and Abraham Lincoln: A Z4 Tour of Washington, DC & Maryland


My trip began on the Friday before Christmas and quickly became a vivid reminder of the gross differences between the “haves” and the “have nots” in Colonial and Civil War times in the United States. As always, my faithful and ever-willing BMW Z4 conveyed me from one destination to another in comfort and style—a far cry from the horses, wagons, and carriages that plied these roads in years gone by.

When the Civil War broke out, the North was concerned that its capital, Washington, DC, was right on the border of Virginia, with the Confederate Army uncomfortably close by. To defend Washington, the Union Army established almost 70 forts encircling the city. The northernmost one, Fort Stevens, was the only fort ever attacked during the war. Although most of the DC forts have long since been swallowed up by Progress, much of Fort Stevens’ earthworks remain in place, in the Brightwood section of Washington between Georgia Avenue and 13th Street in northern DC.

Fort Stevens was attacked from the north by Confederate General Jubal Early’s forces on July 11-12, 1864. It was becoming clear that the South was losing the war, and this attack represented a desperate effort to capture Washington and force a settlement. President Lincoln rode out from the White House to observe the battle, standing right on top of the embankment in the photo above while bullets from Confederate sharpshooters whizzed by. After a nearby Union surgeon was wounded, someone yelled to Lincoln “Get down, you fool!” (This admonishment has been variously credited to Union General Horatio Wright, to the general’s young aide Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (who later served on the Supreme Court for 30 years), and to Elizabeth “Aunt Betty” Thomas, a free African American whose 88-acre farm was seized in order to build the fort.) Lincoln complied and was unharmed. After the battle, Gen. Early’s troops were forced to withdraw, and the capital was never attacked again during the Civil War. Gen. Early said that “We didn’t take Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like Hell!” (Drawing courtesy of Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City.)

Fort Stevens is located right next to the Emory United Methodist Church, a stately looking edifice from 1922 that replaced earlier churches dating back to 1832. During the Civil War, the earlier church was used as a barracks, prison, and hospital, tending to many of the 900 casualties of the Battle of Fort Stevens.

Everybody knows that Abraham Lincoln and his family lived in the White House while he served as President. But relatively few know that, in the summer months, they would escape from the infernal heat and humidity of DC by relocating to “Lincoln’s summer cottage”—a stately home built in 1841 and located on top of a hill about 3 miles north of the White House. There, the Lincolns could enjoy the steady breezes and avoid the noise, smells, and constant interruptions that went on in wartime Washington. As it happens, the summer cottage still exists. It was renovated a few years ago by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is now open to the public. This is the front of the cottage today and as it looked in about 1935.

Abraham Lincoln prepared the Emancipation Proclamation here in 1862 and issued it on January 1, 1863, freeing the slaves held in Confederate states. In practice, however, they could realize their freedom only after the Union Army captured the areas where they lived. During the war, several hundred thousand of the 4 million slaves living in the South escaped to the North. Roughly 200,000 African Americans enlisted and served in the Union Army, with most of them being former slaves. This photo shows the back of the cottage, complete with its circular driveway.

President Lincoln would arise in the morning each day, have breakfast, and from that driveway either take a carriage or ride his horse to downtown DC and the White House. A cavalry unit would accompany him to safeguard his passage, but he would often leave early, before they arrived, perhaps to have a quiet time to think through the days’ issues. Here I am, standing next to the life-size statue of the 16th President and his horse. (Lincoln was 6’4”, while I am 6’6”—at least on a good day.)

And here is Brittany, who is a graduate student in Colonial History and a part-time employee of the Lincoln summer cottage. I had the incredible good fortune to have her as my tour guide—and a more knowledgeable, insightful, and enthusiastic guide almost certainly does not exist.

Most tours of historic homes tend to focus on which painting is which, what the fireplaces are made of, and other aspects of the place itself. For the Lincoln cottage, however, the tour focuses on stories of Abe Lincoln, with the goal of illustrating what he was like as a person. I was pleasantly surprised when Brittany asked as many questions of me as I did of her: For example, what did I read in Lincoln’s expression? How did I feel about Lincoln’s refusal to intercede on behalf of a Union soldier who came to him for help one night at the cottage? (Lincoln did, in fact, intercede as requested the following day, having rethought the issue overnight.) How did I interpret the simple story he offered in response to a pompous British visitor’s remarks about America? Through Brittany’s commentary, questions, and thoughtful reflections, I gained a valuable insight into how Abraham Lincoln faced his overwhelming challenges and how he interacted with people individually.

The tour normally takes about 1 hour. But, since I was the only visitor at 10:00 am, and because we had such a terrific conversation about Lincoln, the Civil War, slavery, and related issues, it was a full 2 hours before we found ourselves back at the visitor center. Thank you, Brittany, for a world-class tour and discussion that I will always remember.

The cottage is located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. The “Soldiers’ Home,” as it is better known, began in 1851 with the purchase of the cottage and surrounding farm. The Scott Building (now called the Sherman Building) was constructed starting in 1852. Union soldiers used the clock tower as an observation point during the Civil War—and especially during the Battle of Fort Stevens. The tower was damaged by the 2011 earthquake and awaits funding from Congress for repairs.

From the cottage, President Lincoln could see the new Soldiers’ Home Cemetery—and the daily arrival of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of Union soldiers killed in combat. It was a constant reminder of the consequences of his decision to wage the war. After 4 years of the Civil War, the cemetery was full, leading to the creation of Arlington National Cemetery.

The Friday before Christmas was probably not the best day to tour sites in Washington, DC, since many workers were getting an early start on their travels, bringing traffic on North and South Capitol Streets to a crawl. After several innovative-but-fruitless detours to escape the tie-up’s, I managed to cross the Anacostia River and find Cedar Hill, the home of Frederick Douglass. Mr. Douglass, of course, was a former slave who escaped to freedom in 1838 and became a leading abolitionist. His speeches across the United States and abroad were instrumental in building support for ending slavery. (Portrait courtesy of the Library of Congress, as are all of the other vintage photos in this report unless noted otherwise.)

Douglass purchased Cedar Hill in 1877 and lived here until his death in 1895. During this time, he made many improvements and expansions, ultimately converting the home into a 21-room mansion. Following an extensive renovation, Cedar Hill is again open to the public. Its front lawn offers a magnificent view of downtown Washington; in this photo, the dome of the Library of Congress is visible in the center of the horizon, with the Capitol dome just to its left.

Leaving Anacostia, I drove south in search of the Wyoming House, one of the ancestral homes of the Marburys of Maryland. Francis Marbury was a descendant of Alfred the Great. He left his native England in 1680, settling in Maryland and establishing a plantation in Prince Georges County on Piscataway Creek. His son Luke inherited the plantation in 1734 and is believed to have been the builder of Wyoming House. It’s a classic example of a “telescope” house, with its three sections having been constructed at different times. The original part, shown on the left in both exterior photos, was built in roughly 1750. The kitchen on the far right was added in 1800, with the connecting section in-between appearing in 1850. The home remained in the Marbury family until 1973. Like most plantation-era properties, the rudimentary slave quarters are long gone, in part because of their weaker structure and in part because they were a reminder of the nation’s mistreatment of a significant portion of its population. Death records indicate that Francis Marbury left various items to his sons and daughters, including “a copper kettle,” “twenty shillings,” “[African American slave] Tom,” “[African American slave] Kate,” etc.

These two hallway photos were taken in 1978 and 1989, respectively, and indicate that Wyoming House benefited from substantial renovation in the interim.

Churches with “mission” architecture are pretty common in the western U.S.—but they’re largely unheard of in Maryland. The Chapel of the Incarnation in Brandywine is the only one I’ve ever run across in the east. It was built in 1917 using poured concrete and a rough pebble stucco, designed to look like adobe.

Leaving the mission, I managed to drive all of a quarter mile before spotting the gorgeous Queen-Anne-style home built by William L. Early in 1907. It’s for sale, just in case anyone’s interested—but I don’t know whether the suit of armor is included… (Interior photos courtesy of William Race Dowling on Flickr.)

Eagle Harbor is, uh, perched on the western bank of the Patuxent River. It was once an important port for shipping tobacco but is now a small resort town. On the day of my off-season visit, I failed to see a single person from its population of 63. I did hear a dog bark, however.

When things go wrong they often go really wrong, as evidenced by this abandoned house and barn.

Among the various other sites, I was hoping to find the ruins of the Aquasco Raceway. It was arguably the very first organized venue for quarter-mile drag racing on the East Coast, and in its day it hosted all of the big names. Don Prudomme, Shirley Muldowney, Don Garlits, Tomy Ivo, Ronnie Sox, Dick Landy, and even Richard Petty all competed here in the 1960s. The track originated and hosted the prestigious President’s Cup races until the county forced it to close for environmental reasons. (If you’re into this sort of thing, check out Sunday Sunday at Aquasco Speedway, from which these vintage photos are drawn.)

I figured that, since the drag strip had been sitting abandoned for 36 years, it would be easy to gain access to the site. I did not figure on (i) a fence surrounding the area, (ii) a sturdy gate blocking the entrance, or (iii) a pair of live security cameras! (I mean, what’s going on in there??)

Not being easily discouraged, I motored down to the general vicinity of the southern end of the strip, hoping to find an alternative vantage point. There, I found this power line right-of-way and determined that the track was about 1 mile east along this path. I might have tried hiking the distance, but the right-of-way is situated in a Major Swamp, complete with 3 or 4 feet of water. Some things are not (yet) meant to be.

Disappointed, but still relishing my trip, I continued on. I crossed the Patuxent River at the Hallowing Point bridge, where the river narrows to only 0.6 mile across. (The Patuxent, Potomac, and Patapsco are the three largest rivers in Maryland, with the 115-mile-long Patuxent being the largest river entirely within the State.)

On the eastern side of the river, I found another Cedar Hill, this one a stately mansion built sometime between 1690 and 1730 by John Bigger. Bigger came to America as an indentured servant but later acquired a number of plantations in this area. It is one of the few surviving “cruciform” houses in Maryland and appears little changed since the 1936 photo. The barn on the Cedar Hill property is undoubtedly of much more recent vintage, but it’s still scenic in a wintry sort of way. Whether Bigger’s own experience as an indentured servant made him more kindly disposed toward his enslaved farm workers is not known.

Did I mention that December 20th was a very pretty day, with temperatures in the low 40’s? If not ideal for top-down motoring, it was more than good enough.

Eventually, with the sun beginning to set, I reached the hamlet of Rose Haven on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Herrington Harbor provided shelter for yachts and ducks alike.

I was anxious to find the lost Queen Anne Bridge before the light disappeared, so I skipped a few planned stops and drove madly toward what had once been the town of Queen Anne (and now called Hardesty). But first I had to locate the 1840 Claggett House. Amazingly, I found it on the first try, situated on the top of a knoll. It was a modest home for William Digges Claggett and his family, but it is distinctive because it is likely the last such southern-style plantation house in all of Maryland. Its surrounding farmland is in the process of becoming a modern housing development. Claggett lost his property following the Civil War, but he, his wife Mary Ann, and their daughter Margaret are all buried in the family cemetery nearby. The historic house is currently in the process of restoration.

As the light was beginning to disappear altogether, I finally reached the path leading down to the Patuxent River and the once-important but now-abandoned Queen Anne Bridge. By the early 1700’s, Queen Anne was an important port on the Patuxent for shipping tobacco, cotton, and other products. During the War of 1812, the British fleet managed to bottle up the U.S. Chesapeake Bay Flotilla on the river just south of Queen Anne. Commander Joshua Barney had to scuttle the ships to avoid their capture by the invaders. (Barney’s sailors joined the Army forces on land to valiantly defend against the British in the Battle of Bladensburg. They were eventually overrun by far greater forces, allowing the British to attack and burn Washington, DC to the ground, White House, Capitol Building, and all.)

I found the bridge in the gathering darkness. It was built of wrought iron in the late 1800’s and, with its predecessors dating back to 1755, was the principal route for traffic between Annapolis and Washington for over 150 years. If you look carefully at the photo, you’ll see that the second span appears to be sitting directly on the far bank of the river. It is. In 1960, an overloaded truck caused that section of the bridge to collapse onto the silted-up ground, which, itself, had once been covered by the river.

With Queen Anne’s commercial decline, the bridge was never repaired. Today, it is so dilapidated that it’s closed even to foot traffic. Somewhere, at the bottom of the Patuxent, lie the ruins of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla—probably under many feet of silt. In 1812, the river was far wider than it is today; decades of farm and industrial runoff have caused the river to silt up to the point that navigation beyond Queen Anne was impossible after about 1790. Today, it’s hard to imagine that the site was once a major shipping port for ocean-going vessels.

As I hiked back up to where I’d parked the long-suffering Z4, I started planning my return visit to this part of Maryland, in search of more Overlooked History…


With the holidays and all, I wasn’t able to undertake part two of this tour until January 8. I got up early, undaunted by the 12° F temperature outside, and set off for more boundless adventure. First up was a quick look at the Spring Grove Hospital complex, in my hometown of Catonsville, MD. I’d been by its entrances many times but had somehow never managed to have a look at the facility.

Spring Grove dates back to 1797, making it the second oldest psychiatric hospital in the U.S. By 1844, its list of causes of insanity included intemperance, masturbation, religious excitement, love affair, and mortified pride. (I report, you decide…) The hospital was originally situated in downtown Baltimore. Due to overcrowding, it was relocated to Catonsville, with construction starting in 1853. The first building, “Old Main,” was demolished in 1964.

Today, the Foster-Wade Building from 1914 is the oldest, largest, and most imposing of Spring Grove’s structures, although it has been used only for storage since 1979. In the historical photo below, the west wing of Foster-Wade has not yet been constructed as a result of funding delays associated with World War I.

Spring Grove was a model facility in many respects, but, like most other psychiatric facilities of the time, its treatments were primitive by today’s standards. Shown below are some of the nursing staff and one of the rudimentary operating rooms in the Foster-Wade Building. Yes, lobotomies were one of the most commonly performed operations.

Over time, Spring Grove and other hospitals experienced severe overcrowding and underfunding, which led to deplorable conditions. A series of Baltimore Sun articles in 1949, entitled “Maryland’s Shame,” graphically detailed the situation and resulted in numerous reforms. The caption of this photo by Robert Kniesche read “THIS IS A WOMAN—Naked, she huddles in a coarse sheet on the odorous, filth-stained floor of a battered, run-down seclusion room in Spring Grove Hospital’s ‘main building.’ The room is dark. She eats on the floor, like an animal. She will probably spend her life this way.” (Photo from “Mental Illness in Maryland: Public Perception, Discourse, and Treatment, from the Colonial Period to 1964,” by Robert William Schoeberlein, downloadable at The Digital Repository of the University of Maryland.)

Two of Spring Grove’s original three gatehouses still exist. The Baltimore Beltway runs immediately to the right of this one, with drivers little suspecting the history lying on the other side of the sound barrier.

Spring Grove’s Superintendent’s House (called “The Mansion”) still exists, although I’m not sure if it is still used for this purpose.

The hospital proved to be a lot more interesting than I had anticipated. I left with some reluctance and motored back to Anne Arundel County. There I found this old tavern on Generals Highway (the colonial route from Annapolis to Baltimore), which was built in 1753 by Edward Baldwin and expanded by his son Henry in 1784. By the early 1800’s, it was owned by Richard and Mary Caton, the founders of Catonsville. The Anne Arundel County chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution rescued it from becoming a total ruin in 1916, and it now serves as their headquarters. For some reason, the tavern was called the Rising Sun Inn…

As the morning wore on, the temperature slowly increased to about 16°, which still seemed fairly cold. Lakes were frozen…

…horses were bundled up…

…and it was time to put the top down! This is as steady a photo as I could take with shivering hands, showing the 1899 Mount Tabor Good Samaritan Lodge No. 59, an African-American benevolent society that is still in operation.

In 1723, the colonial assembly in Maryland passed “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning and Erecting Schools in the Several Counties,” calling for the construction of free schools in each county. Only one of these schools survives: the Anne Arundel County Free School. Among others, Johns Hopkins was a student here in 1806-1809. When his Quaker parents freed their slaves in 1807, young Johns left school to work on the family’s plantation—becoming a fervent abolitionist in his own right. His love of education later led him to establish the famous university that bears his name. The Free School continued to operate until 1912 and is now a museum.

Maryland has so many stately old homes that you almost don’t even notice them as you drive by. But many of them have intriguing histories—including this one. Mareen Duvall left his native France in 1655 to escape religious persecution. He acquired extensive property in Anne Arundel County, and established a large farm called “Middle Plantation” in 1665. Mareen’s great-grandson, Thomas Hall, built the oldest section of the manor sometime between 1750 and 1790. The other parts were added in about 1810 and 1820. The property is still an active farm.

All that is interesting enough, on its own. But how many of these direct descendants of Mareen Duvall can you name? Hint: Only the fellow in the middle has the last name “Duvall.” (Answers at end of post.)

Approaching Davidsonville, MD, I found the 1850’s Mount Airy mansion without difficulty…

…and also the home of Thomas Davidson, who founded the town in 1835.

I stopped briefly to visit one of my favorite churches, All Hallows Chapel, from 1860. Thankfully, it remains in excellent condition.

Remember the abandoned Queen Anne Bridge? Somehow I got it in my mind that it would be fun to approach it from the opposite (eastern) end and get a good photo of the collapsed portion that sits directly on the ground. A careful review using Google Maps satellite view suggested that this would entail a hike of about a quarter mile, following the old roadway. Simple, right? Well, I found the starting point okay, but before long I was having to take detours to avoid large expanses of the Dread Frozen Water.

Between my Garmin Montana GPS and ever-trusty iPhone, I could gauge my meandering progress toward the bridge. When I was about 60% of the way there, however, I found that the Patuxent River had apparently spread well beyond its banks and was now blocking my approach.

Very reluctantly, I turned around—and tried to figure out how I had gotten as far as I did. After much stream-hopping and GPS consultations, I ran across this abandoned speedboat. I briefly debated using it to cross the flooded Patuxent before common sense prevailed, and I sheepishly found my way back to civilization and the waiting Z4. (Did I mention how cold it was? That heater felt good!)

To make up for my bridge debacle, I managed to locate the extraordinary 21-room Hazelwood Manor. As with Cedar Hill and Middle Plantation, it was constructed in three sections over time. From left to right in this photo, the sections date from about 1820, 1860, and 1760. The result is a wonderful assembly of disparate styles and characteristics. The mansion was already in disrepair by 1937, but was somewhat refurbished by a new owner at that time. In 1976, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission bought the property and performed minimal upkeep through 2004. During 2005-2011, an industrious local couple named Pam and Andy Cooper worked to restore Hazelwood through a “historic property curatorship” arrangement with the Planning Commission.

In the photo above, incidentally, that’s a vulture perched on the top left of the central chimney. The Coopers mentioned in a 2006 article that he is a regular presence there. Pam also said that there is a large wooden pen in the attic, which, according to local legend, was used to imprison a crazy woman… If that isn’t an extraordinary house, I don’t know what is. Note, incidentally, that the center section of the house extends outward quite a ways, as shown in this Library of Congress photo. I hope that Hazelwood can return to its past glory.

Leaving Hazelwood, I decided to see what, if anything, was left of Queen Anne Town itself. I believe that this old house is the original tavern in Queen Anne. At least a careful comparison with the 1936 photo of the tavern suggests that it’s very likely. (In particular, check the unusual spacing of the upstairs front windows.) And yes, George Washington slept here.

Thomas Duckett rose from county sheriff in 1777 to become a member of Maryland’s Senate in 1801. Along the way, he acquired 600 acres of property in Prince George’s County. His son, Dr. Richard Duckett, inherited the property and built the Melford plantation house there in the late 1840’s. As a result of debts he incurred during the Civil War, he sold the plantation to Richard Hardesty in 1869, and various members of the Hardesty family lived there for the next 100 years. Melford now stands smack in the middle of the Maryland Science and Technology Center near Bowie, MD. As I approached the historic mansion, I felt that someone was watching me. Sure enough…

With one exception (noted below), Melford is quite typical of the brick mansions built by well-to-do plantation owners in this area. It has held up well and benefited from careful renovation. Other buildings on the historic property predate the manor, including a slave quarters from the late 1700s. Records indicate that the Duckett family owned 39 slaves (and that at least 8 men and women escaped to freedom between 1811 and 1852). At the end of the Civil War, 36 Melford slaves were freed, ranging in age from 2-year-old Amy to 68-year-old Edward Farmer. Recall that the Emancipation Proclamation freed only those slaves in Confederate States; those in slave-holding Union States, such as Maryland, remained enslaved until the war ended and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

The one exception is this two-story, semicircular bay at the south end of the house. Architectural historians have determined that it is the only one of its kind in Maryland.

As I wandered around the historic property, I still had the feeling that I was being watched. When I reached the porch on the eastern (rear) section of the house, I realized why. I could almost hear this fellow saying, “So you thought you’d seen the last of me at Hazelwood, eh?”

As large and impressive as Melford is, it’s tiny compared to Belair, the home of the 16th (and 18th and 20th) Proprietary Governor of the colony of Maryland, Samuel Ogle. Before Belair was built in 1745, the plantation had been owned by several others, including Mary Duvall Stanton Ridgely—the widow of our old friend, Mareen Duvall. Belair continued to be owned by Ogles for many years, including Benjamin Ogle who also became Governor of the State of Maryland in 1798. As with other plantations that depended on slave labor, Belair failed after the Civil War. It continued to operate as a thoroughbred horse farm, however, producing race winners for nearly 300 years—including two Triple Crown winners. Although I found no reports of Belair being either haunted or bad luck for its owners, I did note that one owner committed suicide and another was shot to death. By his wife… The city of Bowie now owns the property and operates it as a museum.

Remember Aquasco Speedway, the dragstrip that I failed to reach back in December? I sort-of made up for this failure by visiting Capitol Raceway outside of Bowie. The track opened in 1961 and continues to prosper, with races every weekend from mid-March through mid-November.

Almost every community between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD has experienced rapid expansion, but time seems to have passed by the hamlet of Woodwardville. I located the old Riden Lumber shed without trouble; it’s the only intact commercial building left in town. The remains of A.D. Riden’s office and hardware store are located right across Patuxent Road. When things go wrong…

Finding the Woodwardville School was quite a bit harder, but I eventually tracked down its ruins. This corner and chimney, plus the stone foundation, are all that’s left of the 1879 building.

The 1882 Trinity Methodist Church and parsonage are both in good condition. And the top on the Z4 is still down, with the temperature having climbed all the way to 20°. A helpful sign between the church and parsonage read “Play At Your Own Risk.”

Mareen Duvall and his descendants, plus his neighbors the Snowdens, owned much of the land that now comprises Prince George’s County. Over the years, a system of towns, roads, and bridges over the Patuxent formed. One such road carried the telegraph wires from Washington to Baltimore, crossing the Patuxent at the Duvall Bridge. I was hoping to find the Telegraph Road, historic bridge, and Snowden Hall—but I learned (i) that they are all located principally on the central tract of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and (ii) that the central tract is not open to the public. Instead, I turned to the excellent National Wildlife Visitor’s Center in the southern tract.

The visitor’s center had excellent exhibits, a nice wildlife observation area, and a very helpful staff. Whooping Cranes have been an endangered species for many decades. Thanks to the pioneering work of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, however, they have made a comeback from only 43 birds in 1941 to about 437 in the wild, and another 165 in captivity.

Wolves are also making a comeback, although this trend may be at odds with the Whooping Cranes…

Being in the exact Dead o’ Winter, I saw very little in the way of wildlife. In fact, this little Mockingbird was it. Still, he was a cheerful fellow and was even willing to pose for a photo. The prior day, an American Bald Eagle spent several minutes in plain sight of the visitor center.

With the kind assistance of Brad Knudsen, Director of the Patuxent Research Refuge, I was able to secure permission to see Snowden Hall and the Duvall Bridge on February 10th! This portion of the refuge is understandably off limits to the public, since it is home to a number of sensitive natural habitats for endangered species and could be easily harmed by sightseers, hunters, or others. However, Brad is aware of the importance of the historical sites on the property and is able to make exceptions for appropriate purposes. Somehow I qualified. 🙂

Here is Snowden Hall: The original was built in about 1730 but burned in the early 1800’s. It was replaced in 1814 by the 1½ story “Rose Cottage,” which later gained a full upper story, becoming a proper mansion once again. Members of the Snowden family lived here through 1926. When the Research Center was created in 1936, Snowden Hall became its headquarters and over the years was used for a variety of purposes. By 1986, however, the historic mansion was no longer safe for use. Unfortunately, it was further damaged by the 2011 earthquake in this area and is currently awaiting funding for repairs.

As Brad drove us to the bridge, he spotted a large Red-Tailed Hawk flying past. The refuge is home to a large number of species, including approximately 45 Whooping Cranes. I managed this so-so photo of the hawk, shooting through the windshield of the SUV and the tree branches from about 100 feet away. Unafraid but aloof, Herr Hawk steadfastly refused to look in my direction.

Along the way, Brad stopped by one of the test sites from the 1960’s. It was here that researchers discovered that the pesticide DDT would transfer in increasingly high concentrations to worms, which would be eaten by birds, interrupt their calcium metabolism, thereby causing thin eggshells that were not strong enough to support incubation. This breakthrough in research explained the dramatic decline in many bird populations, including Bald Eagles and Whooping Cranes.

Oscar Gregory is a local historian, specializing in Prince George’s County and Washington, DC, and he was also in search of the Duvall Bridge. Here he is on the road leading to the bridge. The narrow dirt thoroughfare was originally known as “Telegraph Road,” since Samuel Morse’s first telegraph lines followed its path from Washington to Baltimore.

And here is the Duvall Bridge itself. The original wooden bridge carried the Telegraph Road across the Patuxent River. Dr. Charles Duvall had a grist mill on the north side of the river and a mansion called “Gladswood” on the south side. The first bridge was built in about 1850 to support the mill’s operation. It was replaced in 1907 by the current structure and very recently refurbished under the direction of Refuge Civil Engineer Teresa Walter, P.E.

Did I mention that Gladswood had to be demolished in the 1940s due to structural problems? Or that bricks from Gladswood were used to build the 1-story wings seen previously in the photo of Snowden Hall? It’s a shame that the mansion didn’t survive, but at least a bit of it lives on.

Brad and Teresa accompanied us on our visit, and here they are on the snow-covered Duvall Bridge, which benefited from structural repairs, new planking, and new paint. And not a moment too soon, since Theresa says the historic structure had deteriorated substantially. Although Brad is the manager of this large facility, in his heart he’s still a wildlife expert. He happily identified deer, fox, and raccoon tracks in the fresh snow and spoke knowledgeably of the migratory patterns of Whooping Cranes and the Refuge’s successful efforts to rebuilt their population.

Oscar and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit these historical sites, and we are deeply indebted to Brad and Theresa for their efforts on our behalf. The wildlife refuge is in good hands.

With a last look at the Patuxent River, we will now return to the rest of my Z4 tour of this area.

Nearby, Major Thomas Snowden built the spectacular Monpelier mansion in the early 1780’s for his new bride, Anne Dorsey Ridgely—the step great-granddaughter of Mareen Duvall’s widow Mary Duvall Stanton Ridgely, just in case you were trying to keep track. Naturally George Washington slept at Montpelier on several occasions, as did Martha Washington and Abigail Adams (wife of the second President and mother of the sixth). The property is now owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and is open for tours—and the occasional tea, in case my dear friend Linda happens to read this far…

Oh, and as best I can tell from the Library of Congress photos, it looks like Montpelier has a for-real secret passage!

My last stop of the day was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time: the National Cryptologic Museum, on the grounds of the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA). The museum is a must-see for anyone who has ever had the slightest interest in secret codes and codebreaking. It’s phenomenal, and it’s free. You don’t even have to tell them you’re coming to visit, because, well, they already know…

The museum library has an incredible collection of rare books on codes, including the 1563 Di Furtivis Literarm Notis and Crytographia from 1683.

Cryptology was used in the U.S. by both sides during the Civil War. This photo shows the “Cipher No. 9” codebook used for sending Union General Joseph Hooker’s telegraph messages in 1863. Although based on a “transposition cipher” methodology that was hundreds of years old, the Confederates were never able to crack it.

In the lead-up to World War I, British codebreakers intercepted and deciphered a secret message from Germany exhorting Mexico to join their alliance and promising to restore the American Southwest to Mexico. Britain shared the message with President Woodrow Wilson, who leaked it to the press and gained public—and Congressional—support for the U.S. to join the Allies against Germany.

The museum houses many coding machines from different eras, including this beautifully made pair from about 1920.

Most readers are probably familiar with the story of the British mathematicians who cracked the German “Enigma” codes at Bletchley Park outside of London during World War II. Their success hinged on a simple weakness of the German machines—which would never translate a given letter as itself. Some of you may even have seen an Enigma machine in a museum. Here are three examples, as used by the German Air Force, Army, and Navy, respectively.

But, have you ever seen an Enigma machine sitting in the open, not behind glass, and been invited to try it out yourself? There are two such examples at the Cryptologic Museum, complete with instructions and a pad and pencil. (Now that’s our tax dollars at work—kudos!)

In contrast to the Enigma codes, the primary U.S. system using SIGABA techniques and machinery was never broken by Germany, Italy, Japan, or anyone else. It was developed jointly using the Navy’s existing electric cipher machine and the Army’s rotor-stepping mechanism.

In contrast to the German Enigma codes, relatively few people are familiar with Japan’s bulletproof “Purple” cipher system. A single letter could be enciphered into any of hundreds of thousands of substitutions. William Friedman was “the father of modern American cryptology.” He, Frank Rowlett, and their team at the Signals Intelligence Service (the forerunner to NSA) worked tirelessly for 18 months to crack the Purple code, without success. But in September 1940, a young mathematician named Genevieve Grotjan uncovered a subtle correlation in the intervals between characters. Her discovery led to the exceedingly sober team jumping up and down, cheering, hugging each other—and enjoying a free round of celebratory Coca Colas purchased by Rowlett. With this breakthrough, other correlations were found within days, and within weeks the team had constructed a machine that could decipher the coded messages sent from Tokyo to its embassies in other countries, including Germany. The results substantially aided Allied efforts in both the Pacific and Europe. To quote from An American Encyclopedia of Women at War, “To this day, [Grotjan’s] breakthrough is considered one of the greatest achievements in the history of U.S. codebreaking.” Did I mention that Genevieve happened to be working with the SIS because she had been unable to find a college job teaching mathematics? When things go right

Genevieve’s discovery was no matter of random luck. In 1943, she devised a method for determining when the Soviets were reusing a specific—and otherwise-unbreakable—“one-time pad” cipher. Her discovery enabled the team to interpret entire Soviet messages during World War II and, subsequently, during the Cold War. Genevieve left the military in 1947 and happily taught mathematics at George Mason University for many years. She passed away in 2006, a largely unknown heroine of the first order.

During the VietNam War, the Viet Cong used children’s school notebooks to record U.S. troop positions, radio frequencies, and other information.

The VC also used Soviet KMZ 750 motorcycles, which were unlicensed copies of BMW R71 military cycles with sidecars. Most VC communications were made with sophisticated Soviet radio transceivers, which were very difficult to monitor. However, U.S. High Frequency Direction Finding equipment could often locate and pinpoint the source of the transmissions.

The Vietnam War also saw the first use of portable voice-encryption radios for combat communications.

I reluctantly left the Cryptologic Museum at closing time. It was a fascinating tour, and I’ve only touched on a fraction of the displays and information. Near the museum, I stopped at the National Vigilance Park, which honors service men and women lost during aerial reconnaissance missions. No one seemed to mind when I parked in an NSA employees’ lot and wandered around taking photos of the aircraft at the memorial. Of course, I had to take pictures facing the setting sun, since helpful signs warned of serious consequences of taking photos in the opposite direction—with the NSA headquarters in the background! This EA-3B Ranger jet carries the markings of the Navy aerial reconnaissance plane that crashed while attempting to land on the USS Nimitz in 1987.

Similarly, this C-130 aircraft memorializes the airmen who lost their lives when their reconnaissance C-130A was shot down by Soviet fighter jets over Armenia in 1958.

The third plane at the park was an RU-8D, which was the military version of a twin-engine Beechcraft, widely used in Vietnam for gathering signals intelligence. As I walked by, I smelled high-octane aviation gas and realized that this baby was tanked and ready to go. With all the NSA employees headed for the exit, I hopped into the cockpit, familiarized myself with the steering yoke, throttles, rudder pedals, flaps, gauges, etc., and managed to get both engines running. It required a short taxi and a hop down off of the curbing to reach the access road, then it was half flaps, full throttles, and a steep climb into the sky! No photos allowed, eh? I’ll show them rascals!

I’ll leave you all to figure out what happened next (or, for that matter, what really happened in the first place…)

To close this lengthy trip report, I’ll hark back to Lincoln’s summer cottage and my favorite story from that visit. Two years after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, and only 1½ days after the Confederate Army withdrew from Richmond, President Lincoln visited the destroyed city, walking on foot with his 11-year-old son Tad and guarded by only 12 sailors. Stepping ashore in Richmond, he first encountered a group of slaves who were laboring to dig a ditch. When they saw him, they stopped, approached respectfully, and bowed down before the Great Emancipator. Lincoln looked at the men and said “Don’t kneel to me, that is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.”

May we all continue to have the liberty and freedom that has been achieved for us at such great cost, over so many years.

Rick F.

PS: The Mareen Duvall descendants shown earlier are Harry Truman (33rd President of the U.S.), Wallis Warfield Simpson (for whom King Edward VIII of England abdicated his throne), Robert Duvall (actor), Richard Cheney (Vice President, 2001-2008), and Mareen’s ninth-great-grandson Barack Obama (44th and current President).

PPS: As regular readers know, my trip stories are always accurate, factual, and completely above-board. I would never let my imagination run wild or resort to ridiculous “flights of fancy,” solely for your amusement or entertainment. Why, it just wouldn’t be proper!


Written by Rick


  1. Don Kaiser

    This is really interesting history. Thank you for getting permission to visit and for visiting, taking these wonderful photos, and posting the information.

    I found your page by searching for info about the Dr. Washington Duvall Mill in Kensington, Maryland. I have found photographs of the house but I cannot find any pictures of the mill itself. Perhaps you know something?

    On another interesting note, I did not know about Telegraph Road crossing the Duvall bridge and I was unaware that this was where Morse’s telegraph line connected Baltimore and Washington. My research suggests that the Baltimore Wire Works in Baltimore operated by the Isaiah Balderston family, provided the wire used by Morse. However, I cannot find any hard documentation for this. I was hoping you might know something?

    1. Rick


      It was a real treat for me to visit the Duvall Bridge and other parts of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and I’m glad you enjoyed reading about this area.

      A great resource for information on mills in the U.S. is At the moment, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem possible to access the website. It would be worth trying again in a few days, since this may be a temporary glitch.

      In looking into your question, I found that here was more than one Duvall Mill in Maryland. One was a Duvall gristmill and sawmill near the Duvall Bridge. Its ruins are still there, although I did not see them when I visited the wildlife refuge. A good source of information on this Duvall Mill (including a couple of so-so photos of the mill ruins) is available at:

      I didn’t have any luck finding pictures of the Duvall Mill near Kensington. It was apparently located near where the railroad tracks cross Rock Creek (39.03291762346279, -77.0850769725059). I don’t know whether any ruins are still there.

      There is an out-of-print book titled “Kensington: A Picture History,” which mentions Duvall’s Mill in Kensington in two places. I don’t have a copy, but it’s available from used book sellers. Monica Thrash, of the Kensington Historical Society, compiled an index for the book, including a list of illustrations. It’s not clear whether the mill itself is pictured, however.

      Finally, regarding the source of the wire used in Samuel Morse’s first telegraph line between Washington, DC and Baltimore, I couldn’t find any evidence that it came from the Baltimore Wire Works. It’s a good hypothesis, given the timing of the telegraph line and the wire works company, but it seems to be a detail that’s not readily available.

      Good luck tracking down more information on both the mill and the telegraph!


  2. Don Kaiser

    Hi Rick,

    Very kind of you to do such quick – and surprisingly good – research regarding my questions. I’m very impressed and most grateful to you. I hope your discovery of a Duvall mill near the bridge at Patuxent was of interest to you, at least. You’re right about the number of Duvall mills. There were many including one called the Hamburgh and/or Valley Mill on Paint Branch, which was also owned by the same Dr. Washington Duvall who owned the Newport Mills in Kensington (thanks for the coordinates). There was a Duvall Mill in Myersville near Frederick, MD according to a postcard for sale on ebay. I wonder if you know anything more about the Duvall family that owned the mill by the Duvall bridge. I was surprised to see two large bodies of water on the map at Patuxent called Duvall 1and Duvall 2. Do you know anything about them?

    Thanks again,


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