Day Tripping - DC Metro
St. Mary's County, Maryland
Sotterley Plantation
A National Historic Landmark - Circa 1703
Hollywood, Maryland
Photos by Ron Patterson
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Located in an uncompromised setting above the Patuxent River, Sotterley Plantation has been described as "older than Mount Vernon, older than Monticello, {and} older than the nation itself" (Sotterley Foundation brochure).

This magnificent eighteenth century structure enjoys an unparalleled setting graced with rolling lawns and fields, towering trees, a romantic Colonial Revival garden, and period as well as Colonial Revival support buildings.


Construction of the original house was thought to have begun around 1717 by James Bowles, son of a wealthy English merchant. The folks at Sotterley found out through core samples taken of the house that the structure was actually begun in 1703 based on work completed by dendrochronologists. It is exciting that this site is older than previously thought!

For those of you who raised an eyebrow over the term "dendrochronologists" (and I, being Ron, must include myself among you - Tom knew the word), the term refers to those who apply the science of counting tree rings to determine age. Check out this page ("Tree Rings - How We Use Them") from Joan Zimmerman, Ph.D., for more information.

The Sotterley Plantation mansion has grown into an elegant monument of the past. Subsequent owners enlarged the structure, encompassing James Bowles' original building, resulting in the 300 year old clapboard and brick building standing today.

Don’t go to Sotterley expecting long lines of tourists, food vendors, or elaborate video introductions. Do go to Sotterley to experience the sense of a working plantation, the quietness and beauty of the setting, and the sense that you are visiting the home of a distant, wealthy relative – who will appear any minute!

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View of the Patuxent from the Portico

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"Front" of the Plantation
Facing the Patuxent River

On the day we visited (Wednesday, May 17, 2006) the mansion and grounds, we were the only visitors for the 1:00 PM tour, thus giving us a leisurely tour with docent, Bill Aldridge.

We found Mr. Aldridge to be immensely knowledgeable, friendly, and sincerely interested in making our tour memorable - a task which he accomplished wonderfully. Sotterley was preparing for their "Southern Maryland Quilt and Needlework Show" and much of the furniture had been temporarily removed.

Even though it was very quiet on the grounds on that sunny May day, Sotterley can be a veritable beehive of activity. In addition to their Quilt Show, their events schedule clearly demonstrates the exent of the Sotterley Foundation's commitment to history and preservation through engaging the community. As another such indicator, we noticed some school children on the property who were exploring the nature trails near the river.

The approach to Sotterley Plantation is by a winding country road (Rt. 245) off of Route 235 in southern St. Mary's County. The area is still agricultural in nature.

Unlike Mount Vernon, Monticello, or the more famous James River plantations, Sotterley is not a pristinely restored museum house. Its interior is still being studied for future preservation, and its furnishings are a combination of original, period furniture and modern reproductions. Some of the interior decoration of the Satterlee family remains, most notably the Chinese red paint in the room off the main hall and the Brighton Pavilion - like wall decorations in the dining room.

Two interior features stand out - the original Chinese Chippendale style staircase in the entrance hall and the original painted pine paneling in the exhibition rooms.

The parlor here boasts a magnificently paneled formal fireplace wall with sophisticated carved "shell" alcoves.

All of the paneling is carved wood, not plaster. The design is said to be by "undertaker", which is equivalent to a modern day contractor, Richard Boulton. In style, this room is similar to the formal parlor at Kenmore, the Fredericksburg, Virginia plantation of Fielding Lewis.

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The Customs Warehouse

The river side of the mansion, the 18th century "front of the house" as visitors would have arrived from the Patuxent River, has a long stone-floored one story portico. Today's visitor can only imagine the hours the former owners spent relaxing here enjoying the beautiful view, plantation society sounds, and river breezes!

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The Corn Crib

On the grounds you will find an original 1830 slave quarter, the visible remains of the slave society which was so important to the early history of this house.

In addition, other buildings include a "Corn Crib," (late 18th to early 19th Century), a Customs Warehouse (19th Century, but possibly earlier), a "Necessary," (18th Century), and a Smoke House (18th Century).

The Corn Crib (left) has been restored to display tools and crafts highlighting the self-sufficient nature of plantation life.


Like the Manor House, the slave cabin reveals something of the complex history of its inhabitants. Various oral histories and reminiscences tell us that this is one of a row of cabins that stood here, although the number of cabins is not known and awaits archaeological exploration.

This 1830s cabin is relatively large at 18' by 16', but is still typical of slave housing just prior to the Civil War. The cabin's partial visibility (no window originally on the first floor) to the Manor House is typical of 18th and 19th-century Tidewater plantations. Its proximity indicates that is likely housed slaves who worked in the Manor House.

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The Slave Quarter

The "rescue" of Sotterley began in 1910 when the property was purchased by Herbert Livingston Satterlee as a Southern retreat from their New York home. Inspired by the early twentieth century's interest in the American Colonial Period and such movements as the restoration of Williamsburg, Virginia, Mr. Satterlee expanded and preserved the house and property.

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The Gardens at Sotterley
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After Herbert's death in 1947, the farm passed to his daughter, Mabel Satterlee Ingalls, who lived on the plantation and ultimately established the Sotterley Mansion Foundation to protect and maintain the property for future generations.

In 2000, the property was designated a National Historic Landmark as an

"…important Maryland Tidewater plantation surviving from the early 18th century. It is an intact fabric of landscape architecture, and archeological holdings. Its diverse cultural heritage spans our collective history" (National Park Service, United States Department of Interior designation plaque).

As important as the National Park Service's description is, it does not completely capture the charm and "sense of place" that this landmark holds.

Sotterley Plantation is a "work in progress" as archeological and architectural research continues.

And there are many stories here - about - the ghosts said to haunt the house, the descendants of the former slaves, the lifestyles of the former owners, and the love and care of this centuries' old structure.


Above Photos by Ron Patterson - May 17, 2006
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