Ratcliffe Manor is one of the most finely articulated and distinctive mid-eighteenth-century Georgian plantation houses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, dramatically situated on a small peninsula flanked by the Tred Avon River and Dixon Creek. Built in 1757–1762 for Henry Hollyday as the centerpiece of his 1,000-acre tobacco plantation, Ratcliffe Manor reflects the wealth of the merchant planters who began to diversify their crops. At this time, planters were beginning to recognize that years of tobacco production depleted the soil of its nutrients thus reducing crop yields; some planters experimented with new fertilizers, while others practiced crop rotation or looked to other crops altogether, such as grain.
Among Ratcliffe Manor’s distinguishing features are the near identical carriage and riverfront entries, with the latter overlooking an original boxwood garden and terraced landscape that leads down to the water’s edge. The impressive two-and-a-half-story, five-bay, double-pile, Flemish- and English-bond brick house measures 44 by 34 feet and is recognized for its extraordinary and intact period brickwork and sophisticated wood detailing. Extant family records indicate that the bricks were manufactured on site. The brickwork includes rubbed and gauged jack-arch window lintels, molded brick stringcourse and water table, and large paired interior brick end chimneys. Its distinctive jerkinhead roof is a rare survivor of early- to mid-eighteenth-century design. Ratcliffe Manor also retains its twelve-over-twelve windows and pronounced wood cornice with mullions. The five-room plan provides the more elaborate social spaces, comprising the parlor and dining rooms, with a view of the garden and riverfront. A single-story, Flemish-bond brick kitchen and pantry, likely contemporary to the main block, is located on the northwest side (the hyphen and modern kitchen addition adjoining the two were built in 1953). Both the main block and original kitchen include Federal-period dormer windows.
The five-room plan has been compared to that of Virginia’s Kenmore: three smaller, more shallow rooms are to the front of the house, including a center stair hall flanked by a study and service hall with stair, and larger, unequally sized parlor and dining rooms are located at the rear. This arrangement is similar to one that emerged in Annapolis at about the same time, becoming so prevalent among the houses of the gentry class that it was dubbed the “Annapolis Plan.” The largest, most elaborate and well-appointed interior space is the garden-facing parlor or drawing room. The room is fully paneled from floor to ceiling and features a fireplace with fluted pilasters and crosetted opening flanked by open, shell-pattern arched cabinet and closet. The main entry features an elegant, three-flight open stair.
The original owner of Ratcliffe Manor, Henry Hollyday, son of James Hollyday and Sarah Covington Lloyd, lived as a child at the original Wye House, where his father was guardian of the vast estate of his father-in-law, Edward Lloyd III. The current Wye House (c. 1790s) is perhaps the only other Georgian plantation house that compares in quality and sophistication to Ratcliffe Manor. The house remained in the Hollyday family until 1902, when it was purchased by Andrew A. Hathaway, who began a dairy operation here, reflecting yet another change in the prevailing patterns of agricultural production in this region. Between 1910 and 1935, Hathaway erected a significant agricultural complex at Ratcliffe that included a dairy barn, milk house, silo, fodder house, hog house, chicken house, and machine house, as well as tenant and overseer’s houses. The agricultural complex forms a linear arrangement running parallel to the access road, with the tenant house located on the east side of the road closest to the manor house and the overseer’s house to the west side. While much of the original tract has been sold, the property is still farmed and the house remains in private ownership.
Bourne, Michael, “Ratcliffe Manor,” Talbot County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1976. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Coffin, L.A., and A.C. Holden. Brick Architecture of the Colonial Period in Maryland and Virginia. New York: Dover Publications, 1970.
Forman, H.C. Early Manor and Plantation Houses of Maryland. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Bodine and Associates, 1982.
Touart, Paul B., “Ratcliffe Manor,” Talbot County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1992. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Weeks, Christopher. Where Land and Water Intertwine: An Architectural History of Talbot County, Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.