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From the minute my husband and I turned into the entrance of 600 Mt. Harmon Road, I just knew we were going to have an interesting day!
On each side of the entry were stately, brick columns displaying the coat of arms of two of Mount Harmon’s resident families: the Louttits and Georges. Once inside, we began our slow drive down the two-mile, dirt and gravel road to the manor house. Be careful driving in, as many parts of the drive are suitable for only one car’s passage and several times we found ourselves backing up quite a distance to allow others to pass.
As we pulled into the visitor parking at the back of the manor house, we met up with Paige Howard, executive director of Mount Harmon and our guide for the day. We entered the visitor center on the first floor of an addition to the original brick structure, chatted a bit, and then were off on our wonderful tour.
Ms. Howard explained that the historic plantation and nature preserve comprises 200 acres on a peninsula bounded by Foreman, Back and McGill Creeks. They empty into the Sassafras River, which reaches the Chesapeake Bay four miles downstream from the property. The formal name is Mount Harmon at World’s End, so named by the explorers in the 1700s who took four to six weeks to cross the Atlantic and then another few weeks traveling up the Bay to the northernmost rivers.
Captain John Smith was the first to accurately map the Chesapeake and wrote eloquently about the bounties the Bay had to offer. As a result, many English, Dutch and Swedes settled on the Sassafras Neck in the 1660s, intent on making a living on the fertile land which provided easy access to colonial trade routes. And because it had its own waterfront wharf, it was utilized by many inland farms and plantations to ship their goods as well. Mount Harmon takes its name from Swedish trader and land speculator, Godfrey Harmon, who was given the land by Lord Baltimore.
The manor house itself was believed to have been built in 1730, and by 1760 the 1200-acre property was bought by wealthy Scottish merchant, James Louttit. Under his direction, Mount Harmon became the grande dame of Eastern Shore tobacco shipping.
Tobacco was the main cash crop, but the fields did not plant and maintain themselves. “They brought over many indentured servants and slaves to fuel the massive industry,” said Howard. “Unfortunately, that is part of our history as well.”
The manor house was built in the popular Georgian style and, as part of the British colonies until 1776, most of the plantation’s culture and style were reflective of England, especially in its fine furnishings that were brought back after delivering their tobacco cargo traveling the triangular trade routes.
Debbie Brown Driscoll photo
The history of Mount Harmon is long and rich. I was enthralled by how much it was tied to America’s beginnings and even through the War of 1812. The era of the Louttit, George, and Fisher families saw many changes – from a fire in 1788 to the eventual liberation of the plantation slaves by Ann Eliza Fisher in the early 1800s, even though neighboring properties held slaves until the 13th amendment to the Constitution made slavery illegal in 1865.
In 1963, Mrs. Marguerite du Pont de Villiers Boden, a direct descendant of both Louttit and George, acquired Mount Harmon, with the intent to fully restore it. Her goal was to bring the plantation back to the years 1760 to 1810, when her ancestors lived there.
One of the most interesting features of the restoration – which took ten years – was the painstaking replication of the British colonial style that was done in the main part of the manor house. As you walk into the parlor of the main house, it’s impossible not to be struck by the intricacy of the millwork. Working with the leading Delaware restoration architect, Albert Kruse, they researched each and every detail to ensure that everything would be an authentic reproduction. “All of this woodwork was created and reconstructed much the same way the Rockefellers did with Colonial Williamsburg,” explained Howard. She pointed out the symmetry in both the design of the room and the furniture as being indicative of the Georgian style. However, while we are used to having American colonial furniture in our homes, all of the pieces in Mount Harmon are English, Irish and Scottish, collected on trips to the British Isles. Intricate needlepoint on settees and chaises tell stories of Greek and Roman lore.
The gaming room is set to welcome the evening’s guests to a round of cards after their wonderful repast. There is a unique tilt top table from the Isle of Man whose legs are carved to resemble legs in boots. Most of the furniture is collected in pairs to continue the symmetry and, as we move on to the next room, we pass a pair of beautiful, gilt-topped, Phoenix Chippendale mirrors. The Chippendale influence is very strong at Mount Harmon and, as trade with China and the Spice Road opened up, the Chinese Chippendale style became more and more common. The stairway to the second floor and the railing around the widow’s walk are beautiful examples.
Chinese Chippendale staircase, Debbie Brown Driscoll photo
Gazing around the large widow’s walk, you’re able to see to the Sassafras River and imagine the many schooners sailing into and out of Mount Harmon’s port – loaded with tobacco on their way out, and laden with exquisite furnishings, necessities and luxuries on their way home.
While touring the expansive property, you’ll get to see the large tobacco barn with its very high roof designed to cure as much as possible. There is the smoke house where meats and fish were smoked to last longer without refrigeration.
The colonial kitchen was buzzing with a group of children listening to the costumed interpreters explaining the food preparation of the time and how the impressive hearth was utilized. The new, expansive Education & Discovery Center plays host to, and educates, school groups on the many crafts and hobbies of the period. We were privy to watching a fascinated group seeing wool being spun into yarn.
Thanks to her dedication to restoring and preserving the historic property of her ancestors, Marguerite du Pont de Villiers Boden forever allowed future generations to experience and learn from the marvelous history of Mount Harmon.
After spending ten years enjoying it with her family, Mrs. Boden donated it to a national preservation organization in 1974 and in 1997, Friends of Mount Harmon, Inc. was founded and became owners of the property to ensure that one of the finest examples of a recreated tidewater plantation would forever be protected.
Mount Harmon Plantation is the northern most colonial plantation open to the public in the region, and is a historic and scenic treasure.