Wye House, its outbuildings, and its waterfront acreage comprise one of the most important and intact eighteenth-century plantation landscapes extant in the United States. The Lloyd family and its descendants have owned the property for more than three centuries. The impressive post-Revolutionary main house replaced a much older one that had portions likely dating to the seventeenth century. With the construction of the new house, which is thought to have begun in earnest by 1790, the main axis of the formal landscape was turned ninety degrees, allowing for an impressive land approach in addition to water connections. The house’s design is particularly noteworthy for its seven-part form. A distinct subset of late-Georgian houses in the Chesapeake region had linear arrangements in which all of their components—main block, hyphens, and pavilions—were positioned in approximately the same plane. The inspiration for these houses came from the interpretations of Palladio’s Italian villas published in Robert Morris’s Select Architecture (1757). Wye House’s architectural elements and interior finish are also representative of a transitional period of architecture in which the comparatively heavy and ornate forms and details of Georgian architecture were replaced by lighter treatments and elongated proportions typifying Federal architecture. The first-floor rooms of the house’s main block are organized in an arrangement known as the “Annapolis plan” in which the central passage is truncated and the two most important rooms—the parlor and dining room—extend fully across the back of the house.
Wye House was the center of a working plantation whose layout was deliberately organized to mediate interactions between the different groups of individuals (enslaved and free) living at, working on, and visiting the property. Much of the plantation landscape is still fully legible and the property contains a number of notable outbuildings—in particular a dairy and smokehouse—and landscape features, including a family cemetery, gardens, walks, walls, and a ha-ha. A bowling green extends between the main house and what is likely the earliest extant orangery, or greenhouse, in the United States. A building known as the “Captain’s House” also survives and is thought to have been built in the mid-eighteenth century as a kitchen dependency for the now disappeared original house. It was in this building that Frederick Douglass lived as a boy while enslaved for two years in the mid-1820s. The famed author, lecturer, abolitionist, and statesman came to view his time at Wye Plantation as a watershed in his understanding of the brutality and corrupting evils of slavery and he recounted his experiences of the plantation in various editions of his autobiography.
Bolasny, Paloma et. al., “Wye House Plantation,” Talbot County, Maryland. National Historic Landmarks Nomination Form, 2014. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.
Pruitt, Beth. Phase II Archaeological Testing of the Hothouse Structure (18TA314), Talbot County Maryland.College Park, MD: Archaeology in Annapolis, a Cooperative Project between Historic Annapolis Foundation, the Banneker Douglass Museum and the University of Maryland at College Park, 2013.
Ridout, Orlando, V. “Wye House: Miles River Neck, Easton Vicinity, c. 1790-92.” In Architecture and Change in the Chesapeake: A Field Tour on the Eastern and Western Shores, edited by Marcia M. Miller and Orlando Ridout V, 115-119. Crownsville, MD and Newark, DE: Vernacular Architecture Forum and the Maryland Historical Trust Press, 1998.