Rich Hill, interior, 2015. Photo from Charles County Government.

Heritage Fund Highlight: The Beautiful Bones of Rich Hill Revealed

12/15/2016
By Preservation Maryland

Significant progress has been made in rehabilitating, understanding, and interpreting the 18th century Rich Hill farm and house in Charles County. Recipients of a Heritage Fund grant, Preservation Maryland is pleased to share recent updates as described by Cathy Thompson, who has been managing much of the project. Take a journey to Rich Hill, a stop on Booth’s escape:

When Charles County recently acquired Rich Hill, the 18th century historic property had been neglected for decades. In 2014, a State bond bill was awarded to rehabilitate the historic farmhouse. One of the first steps was to undertake a detailed Historic Structures Report (HSR) which was completed by the cultural resource firm Ottery Group earlier this year. Throughout 2015 and early 2016 research was conducted, architectural features were documented, and the physical and historical integrity of the structure was assessed. Ottery’s work will provide essential guidance and recommendations on ways to stabilize, rehabilitate, and interpret one of Charles County’s most alluring landmarks.

Rich Hill, ca. 1901.

Rich Hill, ca. 1901.

Rich Hill was remodeled in the 1970s when earlier plaster walls were removed and replaced with modern support framing and drywall. Therefore, when the initial assessment began, most of the interior framing was hidden behind non-historic  finishes, making it impossible to determine the extent and condition of the original frame. One of the first initiatives was to carefully remove the modern material in order to properly document the structure and plan for the future restoration. Garner Construction completed the selective demolition and carefully documented the removal process step by step. They took hundreds of photographs and preserved all the trim to be evaluated and culled later.

With the drywall gone, the beautiful bones of Rich Hill were once again revealed.

The earliest framing was axe hewn and smoothed with an adze and uses mortise joints for the studs and plate junctions and hand forged nails throughout. The first floor heavy timber frame included down braces at every corner to support the frame. Brick nogging on all first floor walls including those on the interior provided further rigidity as well as a sound barrier and insulation. Brick nogging was relatively uncommon and only used on the finest 18th century homes.

Both the first and second story largely retain their original 18th century configuration.  Some original second story doors and door trim survive as well as the “T” shaped hall and original room sizes. The room that recently functioned as an indoor bathroom appears to be part of the original house configuration as well.

Although the existing gable roof dates to the late 18th or early 19th century, evidence of the original hip roof is documented in the survival of a single roof rafter at the south corner. One of the most interesting facets of the house was the discovery of vaulted ceilings which would have raised the height of the ceiling above the wall top plate up to the height of the hewn rafters.

Rich Hill, interior, 2015. Photo from Charles County Government.

Rich Hill, interior, 2015. Photo from Charles County Government.

Once the frame was exposed, Michael Worthington from Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory was called in to complete dendrochronology to assist with dating the structure. Prior to this analysis, the original construction dates were not conclusive and spanned from the early to late 18th century. Ten white oak timbers in total were sampled, including six studs, three rafters, and a post. All of the samples were taken from exposed timbers on the structure’s second floor and from the primary phase of construction.

Seven retained complete sapwood, which provided felling dates of the summer of 1728, the winter of 1728-9, and the spring of 1729. Buildings of the early 18th century are rare in Maryland. In Charles County there is only one other property firmly documented to be earlier and that is Sarum, built a decade prior in 1717.

Rich Hill is best known for its association with the John Wilkes Booth escape route, however, recent research, the discovery of an impressive amount of original 18th century building material, and conclusive evidence of its 1729 construction date, makes Rich Hill truly an architectural treasure.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This article was written by Cathy Thompson, Community Planner with the Charles County government and orginially appeared the county publication, Preservation Matters. Preservation Maryland is proud to have awarded Charles County with a Heritage Grant in 2016 to partially fund interpretation at the Rich Hill historic site. Much of that work was led by Cathy Thompson. For her professional and passionate contributions to the project, she received the Gearhart Professional Service award from Preservation Maryland at the annual Best of Maryland awards, also in 2016.

The Historic Structures Report was prepared by The Ottery Group, Inc. for the Charles County Department of Planning and Growth Management.  The lead historic preservation specialist was David C. Berg. Mr. John DeKraker and Mr. Ryan Salmon from the firm of Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers (Silman), provided structural analysis of the building. Alt Breeding Schwarz Architects, Inc. (ABS Architects) of Annapolis, MD prepared cost analyses. Garner Construction performed the selective demolition. Michael Worthington from Oxford tree-Ring Laboratory was called in to complete dendrochronology of the frame to assist with dating the structure. Architectural historian J. Richard Rivoire completed extensive documentation for Rich Hill in 1975 and 1987. These studies served as a basis for an updated assessment in 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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