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Mercer Brown House
The Mercer Brown House is an intact example of a distinctive, colonial-era Pennsylvania building form that diffused into portions of northern Maryland. The form is indicative of the Quaker plain style of southeastern Pennsylvania, particularly Philadelphia and its environs. The style is characterized most distinctively by its staid embellishments and pent roof and eaves. Other character-defining features of this style, as exhibited in the Mercer Brown House, include well-executed glazed-header brickwork, a commemorative datestone, and two-room hall-and-parlor plan.
The house was built on a portion of the “Nottingham Lots” laid out by William Penn in 1701 to attract settlers to this border region, whose ownership was disputed by colonial proprietors William Penn of Pennsylvania and Charles Calvert of Maryland. Moreover, the domain of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends extended beyond political boundaries to include portions of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, in addition to all of Pennsylvania. Among the first Quaker settlers in the area was William Brown, who purchased this property, Lot 28, for his son, Mercer; it was his son, Mercer Brown Jr., who inherited the property and built the current house in 1746, located about three miles from the East Nottingham Friends Meetinghouse (1724).
The Mercer Brown House is a two-story, three-bay-wide structure with a pent roof that appears over the first story to the front and side elevations, and includes pent eaves in the gable end. While numerous examples of the pent roof were built in this area, few of them survive. The house is constructed of brick laid in Flemish bond with glazed headers on its street-facing south and west facades. The bricks also include diamond or lozenge patterns and carved initials that speak to its origins. It is one of eight structures in this area whose construction date can be firmly established by a datestone, but one of only two that include the initials of individuals other than its owners. The datestone is located to the center of the second-story south facade and reads: “M B H” (for Mercer and Hannah Brown) and the date “ANNO DOMONI [ sic] 1746.” A number of bricks are inscribed with the initials of seven local citizens believed to have assisted Brown in the house’s construction. Many of these individuals were significant to the Quaker community, including clockmaker Benjamin Chandlee (whose last name is carved in full on the datestone) and cabinetmaker Hezekiah Rowles.
The house was built in three separate and distinct sections. The original brick section, consisting of two rooms on each floor connected by a winder stairway, remains intact. The first-floor hall and parlor is separated by a frame partition wall, with a large open-hearth fireplace and winder stair in the hall and a corner fireplace in the parlor. During the early nineteenth century, a two-story frame addition of approximately equal size was made by Amassa Churchman, who was the husband of Brown’s granddaughter. A portion of a V-notched, single-story, double-pen log barn built by Brown’s son in 1786 was later moved and appended to the rear of the frame addition.
Blumgart, Pamela James, ed. At the Head of the Bay: A Cultural and Architectural History of Cecil County, Maryland. Elkton and Crownsville, MD: Cecil Historical Trust and Maryland Historical Trust, 1996.
Day, Robert Warwick. “The Nottingham Lots and the Early Quaker Families.” Paper presented at East Nottingham Monthly Meeting, Calvert, MD, September 29, 2001.
Henry, Geoffrey, “Mercer Brown House,” Cecil County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1987. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
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