Spooky Tales, Interesting History, and One Big Nerd…
October 29, 2011 by burninghorse
Today, my friends, you will have to suffer through a raging case of my nerdiness! Over the summer, I had the chance to take a boat ride down the Miles River here in Talbot County, Maryland. This is an extraordinarily wealthy area of the world and you can witness that firsthand by viewing the waterfront properties. Some of these fascinating places have very interesting pasts and it got me to thinking about some of the other really interesting homes and buildings that are located right near my adopted home area. I am a total geek about architecture and buildings – and ghostly hauntings. With Halloween arriving soon, I thought I’d share some of these historical and spooky spots….
Built in 1922 on 275 acres by Glenn and Jacqueline Archer Stewart, a wealthy and eccentric Foreign Service agent and his equally wealthy Irish heiress bride. They had visited Alhambra in Spain and decided to move to Wye Island and build a giant replica of that glorious palace fortress – only in pink. The “Pink Palace,” formally named Centaur Castle on C
ape Centaur after Jacqueline’s family coat-of-arms, a centaur shooting an arrow. Descriptions of the interior decorating included tales of 18K goldleaf wallpaper, imported Tunisian tiles, Cortez-inspired murals of conquistador savagery, massive paintings of Spanish senoritas and other such oddities. The Stewarts’ were apparently also remarkably paranoid about their security and became obsessed with making Centaur Castle impenetrable, including an escape tunnel to a waiting boat on the river, employing a variety of carpenters so nobody would know the full blueprint of the finished building, and installing doors that were half-inch steel plates sandwiched between slabs of solid oak. Every cabinet and door had a unique lock and the windows were narrow slits, suitable as gun positions. The stone walls were three feet thick and there was a lookout tower and a huge portcullis adjoining the main hall. They installed a truly absurd amount of fencing and hired armed sentries to patrol at all hours of the day and night. After they had evicted most of the tenant farmers from the island, the land was used by the Stewarts as an agricultural experimentation area, first for Percheron horses, then sheep and finally, with some success, Hereford cattle. Jacqueline hired western cowboys to live on Wye and run the herd; as properties on Wye Island were bought, hedgerows would be stripped and fences put up for the cattle. Glenn spent more and more time away from the cape and Jacqueline was left to run the estate as well as her obsessive Irish Wolfhound breeding program. By the late 1930s, Glenn had fled to the Bahamas in his yacht, never to be heard from again and Jacqueline Stewart died in 1964, leaving the estate to the estate manager, Adolph Pretzler, and his wife. The so-called “Pink Castle” has been the subject of endless gossip – oft-told tales of German submarine sightings at its shore, of gold and silver coins stored in secret chambers, secret passages running under the entire property, boxwood hedges shaped like Nazi swastikas, scandalous inheritances by the Austrian servants, and a variety of other salacious tales. And tales of hauntings near and around the famed Pink Castle abound, including mysterious lights, sightings of Mrs. Stewart’s large wolfhounds, and numerous other spooky stories. How much can be believed? Who knows – Cape Centaur still heavily guards its secrets and shrouds itself in a mantle of mystery.
For more information on Cape Centaur, check out:
Hope House, built in the grand Federal style around 1800, it was the home of illustrious members of the Tilghman and
Lloyd families (names which, if you don’t live in Maryland mean very little but around here are BIG names).
The house passed out of its original family in 1863 and fell into disrepair until rescued by William J. Starr, a wealthy Midwest lumberman, in 1907, who bought the house and 250 acres for $15,000. The Starr family worked hard to restore Hope to its former glory. Internationally reknowned painter, lithographer, and silk screen artist Ruth Starr Rose (1887-1965) began her career there, sketching scenes of daily life around her in Copperville and St. Michaels. Rose was born in Wisconsin and moved to Maryland with her family when she was fifteen. It was after the move that she developed an interest in the day-to-day lives of the Eastern Shore’s other residents. “She was always taken by the difference in lifestyles and the more down-trodden quality of African Americans on the Eastern Shore,” said Brenda Rose, granddaughter of the late artist. According to Rose, what her grandmother found most
appealing about blacks at that time was the inner-strength they gained through their music and spirituals. “I believe it was religion that brought Black Americans through their suffering,” said Rose. “If I could only convey to white people this sense that the power of God is really present here for us, people of all colors, then I’ll feel my mission is accomplished.” Rose may have been born to a life of privilege and gracious living but she also had a strong social conscience, chronicling life in the poorer areas of Talbot County and giving voice to her concern over racial discrimination – quite an outstanding and admirable task for a women in her time! Of course, Rose’s interests were not simply artistic; she was an accomplished equestrienne and sailor. As an adult, living at Pickbourne Farm adjacent to Hope, she owned the famous log racing canoe ‘Belle M. Crane’ and actively raced it. The Library of Congress has permanent exhibits of her work and the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Art
Museum, among many others, house her lithographs, sketches, and paintings. Interestingly, this site is also known for its haunted boxwood gardens, which run all the way to the waters edge. Supposedly a young girl that once lived at Hope fell inlove with a Spanish naval officer but he could not take her aboard his ship; she pined away for her lost love once he left and now wanders the boxwood garden down to the water’s edge, waiting for her lover to come back.
For more information on Hope House and Ruth Starr Rose, check out:
One of my favorite (and most imposing) houses in Easton is the three-story brick dwelling on the corner of Aurora and Goldsborough Streets. Built in 1794 by Henry and Deborah Perry Dickinson, legend has it that Charles Dickinson, killed in
a duel with Andrew Jackson, was born there. It also the former home of Oswald Tilghman, great-grandson of Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman, Civil War veteran, lawyer, Maryland State Senator, and local historian. And, ever since I have moved here, I have heard stories of mysterious candles lit and moving about in the house, secret slave chambers, and insane relatives that had been locked in the attic in years gone by who now haunt that space for eternity. I don’t know if any of it is true but it is a gorgeous and unique building, legends notwithstanding.
For more information on Foxley Hall and her famous residents, check out:
Inn at 202 Dover
My other favorite building is Captain’s Watch, currently housing the Inn at 202 Dover. Built in 1874, this wonderful
building features elements of classic Beaux Arts design. For years the building was known as the Wrightson House, thanks to its early 20th century owner, Charles T. Wrightson, one of the founders of the S. & W. canned food empire and Shannahan-Wrightson Hardware. Locally, the building is still often referred to as Captain’s Watch due to its prominent balustraded widow’s walk.
After years of neglect and commercial restructuring of the house, restoration began in 2005 under the watchful eyes of the owners, Shelby and Ron Mitchell, Historic Easton, Easton’s Historic Commission, the State of Maryland and the Department of Interior, giving this glorious mansion a second life. This truly is just one of the most beautiful buildings in town and is now a grand and elegant bed and breakfast – I just wish I could afford to eat there at least once!
For more information on this wonderful place, check out:
John S. McDaniel House
The McDaniel House is a gorgeous Queen Anne-style Victorian home in the historic district of Easton. Although it currently serves as a bed and breakfast, it has served previously as a doctor’s office and a private residence, built in 1865 by
Thomas Robson, owner of the Union Hotel and editor of the Eastern Star (ancestor of the current major newspaper, the Star-Democrat). Because of his Confederate sympathies (and investments) during the Civil War, Robson lost the house and it passed into the hands of a variety of prominent Eastern Shore families, including some Tilghmans, Nickersons, and Wooters. Even the first Bishop of Easton, Rev. Henry Lay, called this home for 14 years. It was purchased by John McDaniel and his wife Florence in 1923. This wonderful old home, in the area of town once known as Silk Stocking Row, is not my usual favorite architecture style (I am an ordered, symmetrical kind of girl and this Queen Anne style building is anything but ordered and symmetrical) but I have a personal attachment to the building. It was heavily damaged by fire in 2006 when workers restoring the roof accidentally set some of the original 1865-era tar paper on fire. This 5-alarm blaze was one of the more memorable fires in my volunteer career and I am proud to say that our department saved this historic building for future generations.
For more information on the John S. McDaniel House, check out:
The Villa, on the outskirts of Easton on the Miles River, sat on a tract of land originally granted by Lord Baltimore to devout Quaker Wenlock Christison in 1664. The original family gradually died off and the estate was purchased by Richard France, the “lottery king of Maryland, because the state recognized and legalized the lottery business due to his lobbying, and from that work he emerged rich and prosperous. He built a large mansion on the Mount Vernon Square in Baltimore and bought an estate on the Eastern Shore. Here he built The Villa, with its red tower overtopping the trees. Italian gardens, winding walks and fountains, rich vases and marble statuary, glass houses and “everything else that money could buy to complete a gentleman’s county seat.” After Maryland retracted his lottery license and he failed at a similar scheme in Delaware, Richard France found himself destitute. The Villa
was sold to Henry May, of Baltimore, and under his care, the estate flourished and was said to be one of the finest places for miles around. Then the Civil War erupted and Henry May immediately invested his fortune in gold. All went well until the surrender of General Lee, when gold declined, and swept Henry May along with the declining tide. Henry May returned to Baltimore, but his old friends turned their faces. An isolated, ostracized man, he returned to “The Villa,” and in a few months he died, it is said, out of pure chagrin. “The Villa” was then bought by a young man named Randall, who, with his young wife, more than revived its old reputation for luxurious hospitality but sent the Randalls into ruin and forced them to sell it to a Mr. Brady, of New York, “a strange man, untidy and shock-headed, pottered about in the weedy, seedy garden, a grim and churlish recluse.” After a time there came a rumor, spread faithfully by the locals, of a boat flitting about the river, and of a strange man, bearded and old, seen by chance, but furtively keeping out of the way. The Villa, on its isolated stretch of land, was the perfect location for concealment. Then came the news of “Boss” Tweed’s escape from New York and some people remembered that Mr. Brady had been heard to say he knew or had met “Boss” Tweed. The rumor grew, and was confirmed in the belief of the people of the neighborhood. To complete the tale, a party of officers descended upon the place, but whatever might have been going on there, nobody was found by them. This story set The Villa on the history books, both for its mysterious reputation and its less-than-positive luck afforded to its owners. The Villa passed into the hands of the Lockwood family and eventually to Anne Lockhart, who razed the mansion in 1950. The fountain from the ornate Italian gardens is all that remains, having been donated by the Talbot Garden Club, is sadly all that remains of that mysterious home.
For more information on The Villa, check out:
Webley (Mary’s Delight)
Built circa 1805, this was one of the first homes I heard tales about when I moved here 10 years ago. The original builder, John Kersey, sold the home to his son-in-law, the reputable and slightly famous surgeon Dr. Absolom Thompson in the 1836 Dr. Thompson established a hospital in 1840, reportedly the first of its kind in Maryland. According to one source, Dr. Thompson “made his professional rounds riding bareback and barefoot on a mule. His kit was limited to a jar of calomel, a lancet, and a syringe with a nozzle like a twelvebore shotgun. Nevertheless, his practice became so great that he had to establish a hospital in his home.” Interestingly, in 1838, the same Dr. Thompson purchased Tilghman’s Island containing
1,869 acres of land except for the 1/2 acre “Graveyard” on the northern part of the island. Dr. Thompson bought the island as an investment and when he died in October 1842 his two sons sold Tilghman’s island to Tench Tilghman of Oxford for $24,000.00. With his death, Dr. Thompson manumitted most of his slaves in his last will and testament and gifted a number of them with houses, money, and various other material goods – a VERY unusual legal maneuver for that time! Dr. Isaac Dickson took over his practice and the house was eventually sold. What’s interesting about this house is that the rumors persist that it served as a Civil War hospital and that the ghosts of soldiers haunt the place, looking for their amputated limbs and their final resting places. This is a very common local belief but one that, for all I can find, is sadly just a good story – the doctor died before the War was even thought of and no significant battles occurred in this area of Maryland.
For more information on Webley, check out:
The Rest & The Anchorage
Two sites on the picturesque Miles River, both linked to the same powerful family, paint a quaint picture of early colonial life in Maryland. The Anchorage was originally a modest two-story brick structure on the banks of the Miles, home of the
ferry to cross from the Miles River Neck onto what is now Unionville Road. Built in 1732, this basic house, so similar to all others near it, underwent a massive renovation nearly a century after its construction when it was purchased by Governor Edward Lloyd of the massively prominent and influential Lloyd family. He purchased the home in 1831 and added several wings and the prominent portico – and then gave it as a present to his daughter, Sarah “Sally” Scott Lloyd, and her husband Commodore Charles Lowndes (USN). Their children and grandchildren would go on to shape Maryland and American history.
Just across the river, The Rest was the home of Admiral Franklin Buchanan (1800–1874) who was the first Superintendent of the United States
Naval Academy in 1845 and later served aboard the Confederate ironclads Virginia
(USS Merrimac) and Tennessee
as a senior officer in the Confederate Navy. He married Ann Catherine Lloyd in 1837 and The Rest was given to them by Governor Lloyd and the family in 1847. The two Lloyd sisters could boat across to see each other daily! It is said that, prior to a destructive fire in 1868, a beautiful brick house sat on the property, resembling Doncaster which is situated nearby. Franklin Buchanan died at The Rest and Ann died in 1892, leaving the house to her children. Unfortunately, the house has been demolished and all that remains is a historic marker in the subdivision that now sits on the property.
For more information on The Rest & The Anchorage, check out:
There about a thousand other fascinating (and much more widely known) historically-interesting and ghostly-infested places in and around Talbot County, including Wye House, Big Liz, the hanging tree, the Old Whitemarsh Cemetery, and many MANY others! Check them out if you dare!
It’s sad, isn’t it, how often we miss the history right under our noses! I encourage all of you, my gentle readers, to go out and discover some of your own areas – there are some great stories to be discovered! With Halloween upon us, can you find your own haunted houses?