You can still see the old gate posts at the corner, hidden by a holly bush and a stand of bamboo. One post says Calvert, while the other reads Mac Alpine. They mark the entrance to Mac Alpine, the mansion once located at Route 1 and Albion Road.
I spent time in the University of Maryland archives this summer. I wanted to know more about this historic property that straddled the Cafritz and WMATA (Metro) parcels. Both are part of Riverdale Park. However, Albion is the southern boundary of the Calvert Hills neighborhood of College Park. Albion lies on a slope that crests at the Amherst-Pineway-Queen’s Chapel Road intersection and is known as Cat-Tail Hill. As recently as the 1970s, children sledded down Cat-Tail Hill. Here, the three “Parks” meet.
During my research, I was surprised to find a paper written in 1934 documenting much of the history and construction of Mac Alpine on Cat-Tail Hill.
Picturing Mac Alpine & Cat-Tail Hill
The paper includes a carefully rendered drawing (click for full image) noting an old “Indian burial ground” near the property of the Mac Alpine house at the corner of Route 1 and Albion Road. Three slave dwelling locations are also marked. A number of small outbuildings are indicated, including two well heads, several barns, an ice house and other farm structures.
What does this 1934 primary source mean for development of the Cafritz property? In 2005, Prince George’s County strengthened a key piece of historic preservation legislation. M-NCPPC now has this document in hand and will require a significant survey of the property by historic preservation professionals: specialists in archeology, anthropology, architectural history, historical agronomy, Prince George’s County culture and history.
Civil War & Reconstruction
The Mac Alpine mansion was built in 1867-1868 by Charles Baltimore Calvert, grandson of Rosalie Stier Calvert and Benedict Calvert of the lovingly restored Riversdale Mansion. The Riversdale plantation once extended nearly from Bladensburg to College Park. Riverdale Park, Calvert Hills in College Park, a chunk of University Park and much of the University of Maryland once were part of the Calvert estate. Division of the estate, first to children and then grandchildren, eventually yielded other sales and the development of neighborhoods and towns along Route 1, the old Baltimore-Washington Road.
Very little is known about Mac Alpine compared to the fascinating body of papers, artifacts and commentary on Riversdale. I had heard from long time residents and people active in historic preservation in Prince George’s County that some parts of Mac Alpine may have been designed or built by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the Capital. Mac Alpine, demolished in the 1970s, was apparently a lovely and fascinating house, but was noticed too late by the emerging historic preservation effort.
I began my search to confirm the Latrobe question. Mac Alpine had a stupendous mantel of Tennessee marble, fitted with a “Latrobe Stove.” But this stove was not an architectural masterpiece of Benjamin Latrobe. Rather, Latrobe’s son, John Hazlehurst Boneval Latrobe, invented this stove, which was widely used in the East until the move away from wood heat to coal heat. Mac Alpine featured custom faux wood grain painted by the son of the Mr. Day who frescoed many of the walls in the Capital Building.
Occupied Long Before 1868
The document continues with fascinating details of a working farm. The Calverts were instrumental in founding the Maryland Agricultural College, later renamed the University of Maryland.
But the most intriguing and important details for proposed development concern both text and renderings that note:
- the presence of the foundations of three slave cabins on the property
- the “rumor” of an Indian burial ground to the north and right of the house’s front porch
- buildings on Cat-Tail Hill before Mac Alpine.
Here are the text references from Phillips, Jack W. — The history and construction of Mac Alpine, 1934:
- At the time that the Mac Alpine was built there were at least three slave cabins on the property. They were built of logs plastered with mud, but have since been burnt by sparks from the Baltimore and Ohio railroad trains setting fields on fire. It is interesting to note that although the slaves were set free at the time of the Civil War, Mrs. Calvert’s maid, Sarah Taylor, stayed and continued as her maid for many years.
- There is a rumor that there was once an Indian burying ground in the grove of trees just northeast of the house. This is unconfirmed, but Mr. George H. Calvert, Jr., remembers that often, when ditches were dug on the farm, arrowheads and tomahawks were found…
- Before the house had been built (Mac Alpine) there had been a house occupied by a foreman of the old Riversdale Estate, on almost the same spot.
See you at the Cafritz meeting Saturday or Tuesday.–MbS