Historic Structures

Mount Lubentia Plantation - Magruder House, Largo Maryland

Date added: May 10, 2019 Categories: Maryland House Plantations & Farms

The Mount Lubentia plantation house, in both plan and interior detailing, is of a formal and dignified Federal style. The size and appointments of the rooms and the considerable space given to the center stairhall reflects a refinement and sense of social space indicative of the period beginning in the mid-18th century. By the time of the Revolution, the early hall-and-parlor house form had given way to a larger plan based on formalism rather than functionalism. The four-room, Georgian-inspired plan was far more expansive, with specialization in the usage of rooms. Mount Lubentia epitomizes these ideals with its plan, grace and spaciousness. The formal stairhall and center passage occupies one-quarter to one-third of the first-floor space. In addition, each room—large and with high ceilings—differs slightly in its detailing.

The elegance and formality of Mount Lubentia is apparent immediately upon entering the house. There is a graceful, open-well stairway connecting with a center hall. The formality is further in evidence by the use of what appears to have been separate parlors for receiving guests and for family use. The receiving parlor—located near the front entry and the impressive stairhall—does not adjoin the family dining parlor which looks out over the garden to the rear of the house, carefully separating formal space from family space. In addition, each room is an entity unto itself, having its own particular moldings and interior finish such as mantels and built-in cabinets.

This is consistent with middle- and upper-middle-class custom during the 18th and early 19th centuries. According to Abbott Lowell Cummings in a discussion of Massachusetts dwellings of the 18th-century, of the four principal rooms on the ground floor, two would have served as parlors, one a "common parlor" for the family's use, and one a "best parlor" for receiving guests. Furthermore, china cupboards in the southwest room or family parlor suggest that this was used for dining. Snow Hill in Laurel, likewise, has cupboards in both the "dining room" and the "Hall." During the 20th century, the dining parlor was used as a library. The northwest room—with a passthrough to the pantry and kitchen—would have been the formal dining room.

The history of this property predates the current residence, and it is quite possible that the house was built (or rebuilt) on the foundations of an earlier dwelling (ca. 1760). This tract, known as Norway or Largo, was owned by Enoch Magruder (of Harmony Hall at Fort Washington) during the mid-18th century and consisted of 929 acres. The dwelling house then on the property was leased by Magruder to Reverend Jonathan Boucher. Boucher was the Rector of St. Barnabus Church and also operated a school for boys in Magruder's house, referred to by his students as "Castle Magruder." Among Boucher's students was the step-son of George Washington, John Parke Custis. Boucher was known as the most contentious of the church's rectors. He was a fervent Tory whose views often conflicted with those of his parishioners. He returned to England in 1775.

In 1779, Enoch Magruder conveyed the property, "whereon my dwelling house now stands" to his son, Dennis Magruder. Dennis evidently completely rebuilt the dwelling, as the assessor for the Federal Direct Tax of 1798 noted that "the above dwelling house is not finished inside." He described the improvements as a two-story brick dwelling house, 48'-0" x 37'-0", and a brick passage and kitchen adjoining the house 32 feet square. Although Dennis Magruder later inherited Harmony Hall upon the death of his father, he chose to spend his life here (renting out Harmony Hall). When the British invaded Washington in the summer of 1814 the county records were moved here from the courthouse in Upper Marlboro for safe keeping.

Upon his son Dennis Magruder, Jr.'s marriage in 1832, Dennis Sr. conveyed the family home to him, retaining a life estate for himself, his wife, and his daughter. It was at this time that the house became known as Mount Lubentia, from the Latin meaning "delight." Dennis, Jr., however, having mortgaged the property, was forced to sell to the mortgagees in June of 1835. The property was eventually sold to Governor Joseph Kent of the neighboring plantation, although Dennis, Sr. , and his wife, Mary Ann, continued to live here until their deaths in 1836 and 1839 respectively. Prior to the death of Mary Ann Magruder the house was sold to Otho Berry Beall, also of a neighboring plantation. His son, Washington Jeremiah Beall, married Mary Ann's daughter, also named Mary Ann, the next year and Mount Lubentia became their home.

In the 1850s Washington and Mary Ann Beall built a new home and conveyed Mount Lubentia on 311 acres to their daughter and son-in-law, Rosalie and William John Bowie. William died in 1886, leaving Rosalie to manage the farm and raise their young children. Tobacco was produced here and on a neighboring farm (totaling approximately 1000 acres). Their son, Washington Beall Bowie, undertook renovations to the house in 1911, just prior to his marriage to Frances Chapman Dodge of Georgetown. The most significant change was the raising of the current kitchen wing to a full two stories, adding two bedrooms above. There had been a previous wing attached to the kitchen which either burned or fell at this time—which may have led to the renovations of the current wing. It is possible that the current kitchen was a farm office and the wing, now gone, the kitchen. Washington also added central hot water heating. In 1927, Washington finished the attic and added the two east front dormers.

Washington Bowie passed away in 1960, followed by his wife, Frances, in 1975. Both remained at Mount Lubentia until their deaths. Their son, Forrest Bowie, and his wife, Frances, had built their own residence on the hill above Mount Lubentia following their marriage in 1952. Forrest Bowie was an architect, and was prominent in the historic preservation movement in Maryland. He worked for the Historic American Buildings Survey in the late 1930s (during which time he executed drawings of Mount Lubentia), and was instrumental in the organization of Maryland Historical Trust. The house remained empty from 1975 until 1979, the year Forrest Bowie died, though it was maintained by Forrest and Frances Bowie. The house has since been rented, though Frances Bowie spends much time seeing to the careful maintenance of Mount Lubentia which she holds in trust for their three children.