Historic Structures

Harmony Hall - Battersea, Friendly Maryland

Date added: July 6, 2018 Categories: Maryland House

Harmony Hall represents what remains of an 18th century house situated at the baactwaters of Broad Creek in Prince George's County, Maryland, on a gentle slope which leads down to tidewater a few hundred. feet distant. The briok building which stands today, was the central portion of the house as it stood in the latter half of the 18th century, and was, no doubt, the original house as first built. Wings, however, were added on the north and south at an early date but by 1900 there was nothing left of the wings except portions of the stone foundations partly buried in the earth.

The tract or land on which Harmony Hall is situated was patented. on October 27, 1662 under the name of "Battersea" by Humphrey Haggett, a lawyer, who practiced in the country court, and a residence has been on this site from that time.

In 1668 title to this property passed to Richard Iles and Philip Mason. The preperty was divided. in half at that time and the west half on which the dwelling house was situated was taken by Philip Mason who conveyed it to William Tyler. It next passed by will in 1718 to William Tyler, Jr. and is described in the will as "my own dwelling plantation" indicating the existence of a plantation dwelling house on this property. The will of William Tyler, Jr. is dated 1755 and title to the property passed to the eldest son, John Tyler, although this is not clear from the language of the will. John Tyler who described himself in the deed as "of Charles County, grandson and heir in tail of a certain William Tyler, late, of Prince George's County" conveyed 100 acres of Battersea to James Marshall, gentleman (date not known). This was the northwest portion of the tract upon which Harmony Hall now stands.

According to local tradition the present building was constructed in 1723, the year in which the present brick building of Broad Creek Church (St. John's) nearby was built and by the same contractor. William Tyler, Jr. was the owner at the time and lived there until his death in 1755. The early parish records (now preserved in the archives of the Washington Cathedral) show that the contract tor the church was let January 26, 1722 to John Lane who agreed to do the brick work for 16,000 pounds of tobacco. On the same day a separate contract was let to John Bradford, carpenter, for the woodwork including the roof, porch, window frames, doors, doorcases, window-shutters, pulpit pews and gallery. Bradford's compensation was 14,000 pounds of tobacco. A quantity ot bricks were left over after the church was finished in 1723 and according to local tradition these bricks were used in the construction of Harmony Hall.

Several changes were made in the structure of Harmony Hall from time to time but there is still sufficient evidence of an early date. For example, the floor boards are not tougne and groved but have straight edges and are doweled together with black walnut pegs cut by hand and set in at intervals. The chimney breasts are paneled without mantel pieces and the paneling is simple in form and extends to the ceiling. As originally built, the house lacked the dormer windows and the bull's eye cornice which now appear on the road front to the east. These appear to have been added about 1768 which was the year Broad Creek Church was enlarged under an appropriation of 56,000 pounds of tobacoo authorized by the General assembly in 1763 to be levied by the parish. As a part ot this remodelling of Harmony Hall, the road front door was changed from a single six panel door into a larger and higher double door. The bricks used at this time in refashioning the doorway and in the bullseye cornice were hand-made but smaller and redder than the original bricks. The early workamnship and design is apparent. The house originally had three windows in the north, and four in the south end, but these were closed up probably at the time of the above mentioned changes. For example, the beautifully paneled cupboard in the dining room, which gives evidence of an early date, has behind it in the outer wall the jack-arch of one of these closed windows. The river front to the west stands today as it was originally built, except tor the steps which were added in 1930.

In the readjustment of the statue of the Protestant Episcopal Church after the Revolutionary War, Rev. Joseph Messenger was installed as rector of Broad Creek Church 1781. He was thus the third rector of this church since it was founded in 1692. During a portion of the period ot his ministry he occupied Harmony Hall as the parsonage.

The ownership of Harmony Hall by the Magruder family of Maryland began with its purchase by Enoch Magruder (great grandson of the immigrant, Alexander Magruder) from from James Marshall September 6, 1769. He owned the property until his death in 1786 and left it to his daughter, Sarah, who had married Col. Wm. Lyles, an intimate friend of General George Washington. Enoch Magruder was a great land owner, and it is assumed that he lived in this house until he built Mt. Lubentia near Largo. There is evidence that his son lived there in great style at the close ot the 18th century, although the title to the property was in his sister, Sarah.

The name Harmony Hall was given to the place in 1793 by Mrs. Walter Addison who was Elisabeth Hesselius, daughter of the celebrated colonial portrait painter, when she, as a bride, lived there for a year in 1792-1793. Walter Addison was of the foruth generation of the Addisons born in Maryland, being a direct descendant of Colonel John Addison who emmigrated from England in 1670 and who founded Broad Creek Churn in 1692. Walter's great uncle Henry Addison was the rector of this churh, beginning his ministry in 1742 and Walter himself became its fourth rector, beginning as assistant in 1800. John Addison, a brother of Walter, married also in 1792, Miss Sarah Leitch, who was killed in the battle of Harlem Plains and who was an aide to General Washington. The two brother, Walter and John Addison, were heirs respectively to Oxon Hill Manor and Gieseborough Manor, but both of thoses estates were at the time held by lessees. The two young couples thereupon rented from Mr. Dennis Magruder, executor of the father's will, the brick mansion on Battersea and lived here for one year. So happy and harmonious was their experience that Mrs. Walter Addison in a sentimental gesture named. the plaoe Harmony Hall. This name and the romantic story surrounding it outlived the legal name (Battersea) and the place has been known as Harmony Hall ever since, having long ago been incorporated in the county records.

Dennis Magruder was a man of great wealth having inherited from his father large holdings of land in southern Maryland. He divided his time between his beautiful home, Mt. Lubentia near Largo, and Harmony Hall. Dennis Magruder was in his prime at the turn of the century when he moved in the highest social circles in Washington as well as among the county families of southern Maryland. He was noted for his elaborate entertainments of distinguishing guests both at Harmony Hall and Mt. Lubentia.

There are many evidences of the friendship of the Magruder family with the Washington family at Mt. Vernon. A few minutes walk from Harmony Hall is old Broad Creek Church where Washington worshiped from time to time, especially when the roads were impassable to Pohich on the Virginia side. he could make the trip by water all the way from Mt. Veron to the door of Broad Creek Church and the tradition of these journeys in his barge, rowed by his slaves, is still alive in the community. The original pew used by him in the church bears a memorial placed there by a member of the Washington family.

George Washington frequently stopped for diner at Harmony Hall after attending services at the church.

In 1779 Dennis Magruder married Ann Contee. The Contees were close friends of the George Washington family, it is mentioned in Washingtons diary of the Contee's visting at Mt. Vernon.