Saturday, June 28, 2014

Historic houses, garden tours, &tc.

I've written before about Kelly's "Old House Dreams" blog, a source of endless fascination for those of us interested in --- old houses. She devotes many hours each week to scanning Realtor listings nationwide, downloads photos and background data related to the best vintage dwellings on the market, then posts a dozen or more neatly-packaged entries weekly regarding them.

Old houses, like people, all have stories --- and sometimes it's possible to follow links in these entries or do a little independent research and come up with really interesting stuff.

That's the case this week with Fairview, located in Bowie, Maryland, now passing after six generations out of the family that built it --- the Bowies --- ca. 1790. It's very rare for a house to remain in the same family that long, especially in the United States.

The house sits on nine acres surrounded by a sea of suburban dwellings --- all that remains of of the much larger Fairview farm, or plantation, consumed by the city founded by the family that once farmed here. The last family member to live here was Oden Bowie III, who died during October of 2012 at age 97 and still is here in a sense because the family cemetery is located near the house on the remaining nine acres. Here's a link to the "Find A Grave" entries for the Bowie Family Cemetery and for Oden Bowie III himself.

The house --- a classic stepped-gable four-over-four with central hall design --- is quite large and graceful, although less distinctive than it might have been had brickwork not been rendered and painted and a late-19th- or early-20th-century porch appended to the front. There are other modest additions, too.

Inside, the rooms are large and pleasant, although not especially ornate. It appears to have been just what it was --- a large and comfortable family home. You can find more interior photos at the "Old House Dreams" site. Such furniture as remained when the photos were taken appears to have been tagged for sale as contents were dispersed following Oden Bowie's death.

There were roughly 300 acres remaining at Fairview when Oden Bowie, an agricultural economics graduate of the University of Maryland, began to farm here. He specialized in cattle, tobacco, sod --- and for 20 years, race horses. Then, I'm guessing, it became far more profitable to subdivide the farm than it did to actually farm it.

He also served as secretary of the Maryland Senate from 1969 until 1997, was a founding member of the Prince George's County Historical Society and a lifetime member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, serving as senior warden and supervising the care of its cemetery. His survivors included two daughters.

Also attached to the property --- and to the families that have occupied it --- is a fascinating side story related to slavery, racial divides and the power of an interest in family history to unite. The complete story can be accessed here --- a 2005 Washington Post article.

In brief, Anna Holmes, descended from slaves, and Oden Bowie, descended from slave-owners, connected very late in his life, fortuitously because he was the only person then living who knew exactly where in the Bowie Family Cemetery her great-great-grandparents, Basil and Lizzie Wood, farm hand and servant at old Fairview, were buried. Bowie actually remembered the Woods and was therefore able to tell Holmes something about the characters and personalities of her ancestors. If you're interested in more of this story, just follow the Washington Post link.


Don't forget today's garden tour, sponsored by Master Gardeners & Friends. Admission is by ticket only, available at the first stop --- the home of Gene and Connie Gwinn, 1601 Curtis Ave. (near the Middle School). Maps will be available there, too.

Our own Lucas County Historical Society master gardeners have been busy this week making sure that the museum campus, one of the tour stops, is looking its best. Cookies and lemonade will be served on the big front porch of our Stephens House.

This event will continue rain or shine --- and rain looks likely --- so bring along an umbrella and water-proof footwear.

Also today, the Roberts family will be holding its big reunion in the Pioneer Barn beginning at 10 a.m. --- which reminds me that I need to be there at 9 a.m. to open up. The museum will be open as usual, too, from 1 to 4 p.m. Stop in at the Lewis Building to start your tour.

Looking ahead a little, the historical society's annual ice cream social will be held from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8. Entertainment this year will be an old-fashioned melodrama, presented by the Chariton Valley Players. We're really looking forward to that, so mark it down.

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