Thursday, June 15, 2017

From the ashes

When we first saw photos of Beverly we were impressed with the wide halls and high ceilings. Dave loves some crown moldings, and hasn't met a paneled wainscot he didn't want. So he was eager to see the interior and discover if it was original or "renovated." While this girl is all about the renovations that make modern living possible, Dave is all about preservation and restoration to original. So he was pleased to see that although the interior of Beverly dates mostly from 1938, it had been restored to the original after an arson fire. Not long after moving in, we got a packet of photos from the previous owner who showed us the extent of that fire. We also had a woman get in touch with us whose grandmother had grown up in the house- a Catlin daughter. She sent us some old (pre-fire) photos and a hand-written description of the house- which also mentioned the hidden "room." (I think us modern types might just call this a closet!) When I first discovered this house, it was through a listing on "Old House Dreams" and the comments included a discussion of painted vs. unpainted brick. We though that the house had been painted at some time later in the 20th century because a National registry application (1976) photo showed it unpainted, but we now know that photo was from before 1937. Dave went to the Maryland Historical trust and looked at negatives and originals in the file and got the date from the back! Also, one new article I read mentioned that the exterior brick had been so damaged by the fire that they coated it with concrete and painted it. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Telephone Game

How many of you out there remember the "telephone game" when you were in elementary school? I recall sitting a circle and the first person started the game by whispering something, only once, in the ear of the person next to him or her. That person then repeated what they thought they heard by whispering it to the person on their other side, and so on, and so forth. When the whispered phrase returned to the beginning of the circle and was revealed to the group, the permutation of the original phrase was usually met by hysterical laughter. "I am wearing blue shoes" somehow morphed into "I am in love with John Hughes," right?

I think we all know that historical legends always involve some degree of the "telephone game." And most of us would also agree that when it comes to selling real estate, there is a strong tendency to lie and embellish in order to make a house more attractive. In our case, the legend surrounding our house, Beverly of Somerset, revolved around a historical figure of the grandest proportions- Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. We were smitten before we heard the stories, but the legend certainly served as a conversation started about this unique property. But was it true? My natural curiosity coupled with my access to a number of subscription databases allowed me to get to the bottom of this particular legend. The results have shattered the myth, but hardly devalued the property.

The real estate "blurb" mentioned the legend that Beverly had been the center of a plot to rescue Napoleon from his exile on the island of St. Helena. The story told of a secret room behind a fireplace in an upstairs bedroom where he could have been hidden, and of a tunnel from the nearby creek so that he could come and go in secret. Alas, the tunnel was never actually discovered (although a quote from a previous owner who built the swimming pool says they found the ground caved in towards the creek)  and the secret room burned when the entire interior was torched in 1937. The connection to Napoleon was explained as a result of the friendship of the first owner of Beverly, Nehemiah King, to Jerome Bonaparte, who lived in Baltimore and married a local heiress, Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson. A local resident Pierre Guillet was also mentioned in connection with the plot, but only his coincidental appearance from Philadelphia and departure after Napoleon's death seems to support any involvement in the "plot."

All of this seemed very reasonable to me, even exciting, and my first searches in our historical newspaper databases confirmed the story. Every article I found connected the burned house to the Napoleon plot. Later, when the house was restored after the fire, the rescue plot was repeated when the house was mentioned in connection with house tours and fundraisers. Not long after we moved in, the previous owner forwarded us some photos of the house immediately after the fire, as well as a book about the famous "Belle of Baltimore," Betsy Patterson.

Not far into the book about the 18 year old girl who married Napoleon Bonaparte's younger brother Jerome in 1803, I learned that she was abandoned by Jerome in 1805 and never saw him again. Although I didn't know much about the Bonapartes, it struck me as odd that there would have still been a relationship between a Maryland plantation owner and the brother who had never returned to Maryland by the time Napoleon needed rescue from St. Helena after Waterloo in 1815. Every story I had read had said that King was connected to the plot through Jerome and Betsy. (Later, I found other articles that described the friendship was actually with Nehemiah's son, Robert Jenkins Henry King, who was called Major King at times, and then apparently a Colonel, in the militia or as a sheriff apparently. This makes a little more sense time-wise.)

So I changed up my search terms a little to focus on the Napoleon "rescue plot." What I discovered is that many hamlets large and small in the US claimed to have a relationship to Napoleon and his rescue. Upstate New York was reported to have been where Napoleon was going to settle, because his brother Joseph had settled there. Another story large mansion was built for him in New Orleans and New Orleans Mayor Nicholas Girod, an ardent admirer of the emperor decided to try to rescue Napoleon out of exile on St. Helena and bring him to New Orleans to live in Girod's house. There was even a story about a smuggler, Tom Johnson, who aimed to spring the French leader from the heavily guarded island by using a bosun's chair to lower him down cliffs onto one of two steam-powered submarines waiting offshore.

Then I found articles to suggest that the most likely connection to a brother of Napoleon might have been through brother Joseph, former King of Naples, who arrived in American in 1816 and spent time in Philadelphia. There he became friends with Stephen Girard, a banker who helped finance the Louisiana Purchase. Girard was mentioned as a central figure of the plot in a few newspaper articles from the early 20th Century. Girard was a well-known figure to Philadelphians and was the founder of Girard College. His will and papers have been documented and studied. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of his involvement besides the possible confusion of his name with that of Nicolas Girod, a mayor of New Orleans, whose plot to rescue Napoleon included the building of a ship, the Seraphine, with help from Napoleon's supporters in New Orleans and Charleston, SC.

Girod built a house at 514 Chartres St. in New Orleans, now called "Napoleon House", and hired Dominic You, a lieutenant of the pirate Lafitte, to sail to St. Helena. He received word that Bonaparte had died just days before the ship was to sail. Other articles mention the ship was leave from Cape Charles, just down the Eastern Shore of Virginia from Beverly.

So, Girod or Girard? Cape Charles or Charleston? Nehemiah or Robert J.H.? Jerome or Joseph?

What do you think? Legend or fact? 

Moving from Glasgow

When Dave retired in the spring of 2014, we started looking at historic homes on the Eastern Shore. We saw a listing for Beverly right away, but discovered that it was already under contract! Dissapointed that we didn't even get to visit, we continued to look and came across another period home in Cambridge, Maryland, named "Glasgow". Glasgow had been built somewhere around 1792 and was also of the Federal architectural style, but had a newer wing added in 1921 that replaced an original wing. That wing was moved a few lots away and turned into a single-family home.

Glasgow is on the National Register of Historic places because it is associated with a famous diplomat, Thomas Vans Murray. Although various stories place him as the owner of Glasgow, from what we can tell, his nephew was the owner. Glasgow became a bed and breakfast inn in the 1980's and was a popular place for competitors and spectators of the Ironman triathlon events held in Cambridge twice yearly. When Dave purchased it in the summer of 2014, it had been vacant and on the market for a few years. The park-like lot just a short distance from the Choptank River makes it a lovely place to sit and watch the sailboats go by, or watch the power-boat regatta every summer.

We set about cleaning up the neglected yard and taking down fallen trees and stumps from a major storm that had knocked down over a dozen trees a decade earlier. Dave's 18th century American furnishings fit perfectly into the elegant rooms and halls, and before long we held an open house to announce our arrival in the community. Cambridge is a very welcoming place where we found many other "come-heres" from the DC area who had also discovered Cambridge as a perfect retirement or second-home location. We also met most of the local "from-heres" who have preserved the waterfront and historic district as an example of the Eastern Shore's timeless beauty.

Much to our surprise, Beverly came back on the market in the fall of 2015. We initially decided to visit out of curiosity. I should have known that Dave would fall in love with it, and he did. Beverly's wide halls and high-ceilings made Glasgow appear like a petite younger sister. I think the expansive farmland and forest also attracted us and made it feel like it was isolated in time and place. We closed on it in the spring of 2016, even before Dave had finished the renovation on his Annapolis house. While he spent much of his time and energy getting that house sold, we also began to prepare Glasgow for market as well. Because we felt that Glasgow showed well as a period home with its furnishings, we had a 360-degree tour photographed so that the interior could be frozen in time and be used to interest buyers like us who envision themselves in a restored historic home. You can view the tour here or see it below. Moments after the camera stopped filming, the moving trucks arrived to begin the transition to Beverly!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Welcome to our new page!

Beverly has been cited by the Maryland Historical Trust as one of the most impressive homes on Maryland's lower Eastern Shore. This historic home is located 3 miles south of Princess Anne, Somerset County, Maryland, United States. It is a  21⁄2-story, Federal-style, Flemish bond brick dwelling measuring 40 feet by 60 feet. It was built by Nehemiah King II between 1785 and 1796. The interior of the house was partially destroyed by fire in 1937 but was restored from plans.

The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Beverly of Somerset