Historic Structures

Snow Hill - Samuel Snowden House, Laurel Maryland

Date added: April 12, 2019 Categories: Maryland House

Snow Hill is one of a number of fine brick dwelling houses built in Laurel by the prominent Snowden family during the mid- to late-18th century. The Snowdens were the original settlers of this area. They developed and dominated the local business—and thus the economy of the area—even before the actual founding of the town of Laurel. Richard Snowden first immigrated to Calvert County from Wales in 1658. From 1676 to 1685 he received 1,976 acres. By 1690, he had settled on his property and erected a home on the Patuxent River, southeast of the current town of Laurel in what is currently Howard County.

His son, Richard, Jr., (Captain Richard Snowden), continued to increase the family landholdings so that his son, Richard III, inherited 27,000 acres in Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard and Anne Arundel Counties. It was Captain Richard Snowden who (along with four others) started the Patuxent Iron Works, the first in the state, in 1726. The Snowden family later constructed mills—first a grist mill in 1811, later converted to a large cotton mill in 1824. Their mill became the town's primary industry, employing hundreds and was so important to Laurel's economy that Laurel was known as "Laurel Factory." Thus, the Snowden's mining and milling interests were responsible for the creation of Laurel.

Samuel Snowden, the man who is responsible for the construction of Snow Hill, was the son of Richard Snowden III. Samuel inherited approximately 6,000 acres in Prince George's and Anne Arundel Counties, as well as one-third of his father's interest in the iron works. He was born in 1727, and died in 1801, leaving his estate— according to his will—to his six living children, Philip, Samuel, Jr. , Ann (Hopkins) , Henrietta, Mary (Cowman) and Sarah (Hopkins), and two granddaughters, Elizabeth and Rachael Snowden, the children of his deceased son, Richard.

To his son, Samuel, he bequeathed, "All my lot and parcel of land whereon my Dwelling House was burnt . . . the aforesaid being part of 'Birmingham Manor' containing 1,113 acres of land" along with "all my household furniture of every kind, together with my stock.... and all other utensils belonging to the said plantation." Evidently, the house was still under reconstruction at the time of Samuel's death in 1801. A codicil added to his will just days before his death, dated June 19, 1801, provided for additional funds for the reconstruction. As stated, ". . .a sum not exceeding 500 pounds (including the sum of 125 pounds which I have already engaged to pay) for the purpose of being laid out and expended in procuring materials for, and for the rebuilding and refitting of my late dwelling House which was burnt and which I have devised aforesaid to my son Samuel. . .".

As mentioned, exterior bricks with the inscriptions "GW 1786" and "SS 1786" suggest that the previous house did not burn to the ground but was in fact rebuilt. An account in the Gazette May 3, 1764, stated that, "On April 26 just passed, which was a windy day, a new large brick dwelling house belonging to Mr. Samuel Snowden, near Snowden Iron Works, took fire from sparks from the chimney falling on the roof, and the house was burned to the ground." Thus, the current house was most likely rebuilt from a dwelling constructed sometime after 1764.

A room-by-room inventory of the household furnishings is also given in the administration of Samuel's estate in 1801. The rooms are listed as follows: garrett, hall chamber, back room chamber, lodging room chamber, passage chamber, hall, dining room, lodging room, passage (and possibly a "back room" over which the back room chamber was located?) , and cellar. Also mentioned are "out house below stairs," "out house up stairs," (the contents of which—including a desk, table, clock—suggest a farm office), the meat house and the kitchen.

The names given to the rooms, as well as the furniture listed in each, reveals much about the intended use, and the life style of the period. The use of a hall and a dining room reflects the evolution of the 18th-century house form from the more multi-use hall-and-parlor to one refined to meet a more complex social structure, separating social space from family space. The earlier hall was a multi-purpose living and working space, which later became the more formalized entertaining room with the addition of dining rooms and passages by the mid-18th century. The "dining room"-more aptly described as a dining parlor—then becomes the heart of the family's living space. This is supported by the inventory which lists in the hall a desk, dining table, small tea table, eight chairs, one large looking glass and china in cupboard. In the dining room is found a desk and bookcase, a breakfast table, tea table, one dozen Windsor chairs, a looking glass and china in cupboard. Thus, there is little difference between the furnishing of the hall and dining rooms. Presumably, the difference is in the quality rather than the type of furnishings, and who uses them.

Samuel Snowden, Jr., died intestate in 1823. The administration of his estate gives a personal inventory only, but lists his heirs as the following children: Samuel C. (the executor), Mary, Sarah, Martha, Joseph and Rebecca Snowden. According to a survey made of the division of the real estate of Samuel Snowden (not found, but evident from the chain-of-title, and there is a receipt from Lloyd Adamson for the surveying and dividing up of the lands of Samuel Snowden in Admin. #1810) Sarah Snowden inherited her fatherfs dwelling house. Sarah Snowden and her sister, Mary S. Tyson, conveyed the property to Benjamin Alsop, and his sister, Sarah A. Alsop of Cayuga County, New York, in May of 1865.

Sarah Alsop was a teacher at the nearby Muirkirk school, established by Charles Coffin, owner of the Muirkirk Iron Furnace. A community of workers' housing—known as Muirkirk—developed around the iron furnace, which was one of the few employers of blacks in the county (most were engaged in tenant farming). The school was significant because it taught black as well as white children. Sarah Alsop had been sent here by the New England Association, a beneficial society based in Boston, Massachusetts. Beneficial societies such as this one developed out of the Freedmen's Bureau (instituted by an act of Congress in 1865) following the Civil War. Their mission was to assist blacks in establishing schools and hospitals, finding jobs, and providing aid in the form of food, clothing, etc.

Sarah Alsop died in 1873, leaving her share of the real estate to her brother, Benjamin, and thereafter, to his son, Edward. Benjamin and his wife, Margaret, presumably had relocated here as their grantor deed in 1885 gives their place of residence as Prince George's County. Benjamin Alsop also appears here on the Hopkins Altas of 1878. Benjamin and Margaret conveyed title to the property to John Alsop of Brooklyn, Wisconsin, in June of 1885. John Alsop died, however, shortly thereafter, leaving the property to his son and only heir, Thomas J. Alsop. The property was probably tenanted (perhaps even by Benjamin Alsop who was later in dispute over the property with Thomas Alsop) as two equity cases and Thomas' eventual grantor deed gave his residence as Brooklyn, Wisconsin.

In December of 1890 Thomas and his wife, Francis Alsop, conveyed the property to real estate investors H. Maurice Talbott (a Rockville attorney) and a silent partner by the name of McEwen (Henry C. Borden, who appears on the first deed, JWB 17:209 was Mr. McEwen's clerk) . The farm was then tenanted by Mr. Samuel Green. A later conflict over the property—and the suggestion that Talbott had "been had" by McEwen—resulted in an equity suit and the property's eventual sale. According to testimony in the equity proceedings in 1897, the Snow Hill farm had evidently suffered from being tenanted. It was stated that, "the dwelling is not tolerable and all of the buildings are out of repair", and land values in this area had decreased considerably.

Thus, Snow Hill, in its reduced state, passed through a succession of owners. All were of Washington, D.C., and evidently absentee owners who tenanted the property. Thus , it was stated that when the current owners purchased Snow Hill in 1940, the house was in a deteriorating state and had served as a "neglected farmhouse and even a barn". It was purchased by Dr. Bryan P. Warren and his wife, Virginia (Linnie) , in September of 1940. The Warrens proceeded to undertake the restoration and renovation of Snow Hill, hiring architect Byard Turnbill to develop plans in keeping with the historic character of the house. The Warrens originally farmed the property themselves, planting corn.

James C. Wilfong, Jr., who wrote on the county's historic architecture for the Prince George's Post, said of the Snowdens and their dwellings, "They were Englishmen and the homes they erected were built in the English manner and styling, tempered perhaps by the few Maryland adaptations to the Tidewater way of life." He, in addition, stated "this remarkable family were builders of great talent and each left his cultural mark upon the home he erected... at the height of the Snowden dynasty perhaps a dozen of their notable structures dotted the area and their existence noted both culture and elegance".

Snow Hill is one of five Snowden dwellings now remaining in the Laurel area (including Montpelier, Oatlands, Snowden's Walnut Grange and Snowden Hall). These and a few others (now gone) were once part of a vast Snowden plantation. As time passed, the large tract was eventually divided up as the inheritances of later family members. As the value of farm land in this area decreased, Snow Hill became a tenant farm. Eventually, with the coming of the railroad and increased commercialization, Laurel would grow and this area would be developed by suburban homes and shopping centers. Thus, Snow Hill has gone from early settlement plantation house, to farm house, tenant house, and finally to country house surrounded by suburban development.