Rose Hill is the most architecturally distinguished eighteenth-century house in Charles County. Its two-story, five-part-plan and distinctive exterior detailing are particularly impressive when considering that the typical house of the relatively prosperous Charles County planter was a one-and-a-half-story dwelling with a series of disconnected dependencies. Rose Hill is prominently located on high ground with an expansive view of Port Tobacco Creek and the Port Tobacco Valley below it. It was built as the residence of Dr. Gustavus Richard Brown (1747–1804), who was a physician and friend of George Washington.
Although its formal five-part composition was not uncommon among the houses of Maryland’s wealthy planter class during this period, Rose Hill is somewhat unusual. The south and north facades of the main block are of wood frame construction with brick nogging covered with siding, and end walls of Flemish-bond brick. The brick-constructed hyphens and wings are situated at ground level, while the main block is elevated on a raised basement, accentuating its dominant position. The primacy of the riverfront south facade is made apparent by the fact that it is flush with the hyphenated wings, whereas the wings are set back from the north facade and thus recede into the background when viewed from that vantage point. The south facade is further distinguished from its plainer northern counterpart by a central gable-front pavilion that includes an elaborate entry frontispiece and single-part Palladian and bull’s eye windows. Pairs of exterior brick chimneys rising high above the gable ends of the main block also contribute to its stateliness.
The interior of Rose Hill takes the form of the symmetrically balanced, Georgian, two-cell-deep, center-passage plan although, like the exterior, it includes interesting variations. Rather than incorporate a grand stairway within the wide center passage, there are stairways to either side of the passage, thus reducing the size of the rooms to the (north) rear of the house. The rear east side contains a perpendicular hallway with an exterior side entry. The raised basement included a “winter” kitchen, with a summer kitchen located in the east wing (the restored kitchen of the current house). Located in the west wing was originally Dr. Brown’s office, and he is said to have operated a “dissecting room” in his basement for the study of cadavers for the advancement of medical science.
In addition to being among the few American medical professionals of his era to have been formally educated (he attended the University of Edinburgh), Dr. Brown was also an avid horticulturalist and landscape architect. The name “Rose Hill” reflects the emerging concept of acknowledging a dwelling’s relationship to its environmental setting. The south front lawn is terraced, with the “falls” descending toward the creek. The lawn also features a boxwood garden laid out in a formal design of semi-circular and triangular patterns. Dr. Brown’s garden was well known for its medicinal and culinary, as well as its ornamental, plants.
Throughout the eighteenth century, Charles County remained isolated and its economy was based almost exclusively on slave-based tobacco cultivation. As a result, a very stratified class structure developed that consisted mostly of wealthy planters or landed gentry and the poor tenant farmers and slaves bound to them. Rose Hill reflects the life of the former class, whose houses are almost all that is left of the county’s eighteenth-century architectural landscape.
Charles County Commissioners. “Charles County Historic Preservation Plan.” July 2004.
Foreman, Henry Chandlee. Early Manor and Plantation Houses of Maryland. 2nd ed. 1934. Baltimore: Bodine and Associates, 1982.
Lane, Mills. Architecture of the Old South; Maryland. New York: Abbeville Press, Publishers, 1991.
Morgan, William, and Nancy Miller, “Rose Hill,” Charles County, National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1972. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
“Rose Hill,” Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland. Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1936 and 2009. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS No. MD-58).