Tragedy in Ellicott City, Maryland

August 1, 2016 at 12:24 am (Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Maryland)

We are saddened and shocked by the devastating flood in downtown Ellicott City. A torrential downpour is responsible for two deaths and tremendous destruction of property.

This is a community of quiet charm, lovely – and in some cases, quirky – shops, and fine restaurants.

But now….

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(Pictures are from The Washington Post.)

This happened some four or five miles from our house. We are on high ground and so were unaffected by this storm. Unaffected – but plenty scared. It seemed as though the pounding rain would never stop.

So far I have found these two organizations who are accepting donations for flood victims:

The Ellicott City Partnership

Preservation Maryland

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History comes alive – right here, right now! – Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad, by Jehanne Wake

August 13, 2015 at 1:25 am (Book review, books, History, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Maryland)

10503279  I’m not sure why, but it’s taken this book to jolt me into full awareness of the rich history that surrounds us here in central Maryland. For one thing, Doughoregan Manor, where the Caton sisters passed much of their childhood, is about ten minutes away from my front door. I actually tried to drive past it yesterday, only to be greeted by  a large and unambiguous “No Trespassing” sign. Descendants of the original owners still live there. They have no desire for gawking  tourists to be staring in their windows. Oh, but I did so want to gawk….

The Caton sisters – Marianne, Bess, Emily, and Louisa – were the granddaughters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the last to die – at the age of 95 in 1832. Aside from being a fascinating story in an of itself,  the unfolding tale of the lives of these four women and their illustrious grandsire sheds a vivid light on late 18th and early 19th century social and political life, not only here in Maryland but also in Great Britain, Ireland, and France.

These four women made their mark on the era in which they lived. Three of them – Marianne, Louisa, and Bess –  made their way to England and married into the titled aristocracy. Only Emily remained at home in Maryland, marrying John MacTavish, British consul to the state of Maryland, and inhabiting various estates owned by her large and very wealthy family.

Thus juicy volume is filled with fascinating stories about the Caton and Carroll families. Many other famous individuals of the period put in an appearance. My particular favorite is the Duke of Wellington, who fell in love with Marianne Caton at a time when both were married to others.

APSLEY HOUSE, London.

Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830).

Wellington had this portrait painted specially for Marianne. In her turn, she had her portrait done, also by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and gave it as a gift to the Duke. That’s it, above, adorning the cover of the  book.

For several weeks now I’ve been researching the dwelling places of the Carroll and Caton families in this area. I’ve already mentioned Doughoregan Manor – the unspellable and unpronounceable ancestral home of the Carroll family. (The name is of Irish Gaelic derivation.):

Doughoregan2

Doughoregan Manor

Then there is the Charles Carroll House in Annapolis. Home to Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), it was built by his father Charles Carroll the Squire (1702-1782). According to Jehanne Wake, all four of the Caton sisters were probably born here. (The first  Charles Carroll, called the Settler, lives from 1660 or 1661 to 1720. He it was who originally emigrated to this country from Ireland in 1688. Got all that? I hope so; you never know, there might be a quiz….)

Charles Carroll House, Annapolis

Charles Carroll House, Annapolis

The building of Brooklandwood Plantation was begun in 1793.  This dwelling was conceived as an escape from the oppressive heat and humidity of Baltimore. (Good luck with that, say I, as I sit here in air conditioned comfort and stare balefully at  the sweltering out of doors. As of this writing, the temperature is 72, degrees, actually a relief from the recent string of ninety-degree plus days. But the humidity stands at 92 per cent. And the time is well before noon.)

Brooklandwood’s current location is Brooklandville, in Baltimore County. It is now part of St. Paul’s School, an independent day school.

Brooklandwood

Brooklandwood

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 “Whe-ew-ew–by George this is a Toaster,” exclaimed an English diplomat, unaccustomed to the temperature. “A pint of American summer would thaw all Europe in ten minutes.”

Sisters of Fortune, p. 19

Completed in 1808, the Homewood Estate was intended by Charles Carroll of Carrollton as a wedding gift for his son Charles Carroll Jr. It is currently the Homewood Museum, located on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

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Homewood Museum

Then, there is Folly Quarter Manor and Equestrian Estate:

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This magnificent manor house, with its lush grounds and other amenities, was in the news late last year when it came  for sale. From the Baltimore Sun’s write-up of Folly Quarter Manor:

Maryland lays claim to an abundant share of American history, much of it preserved in our homes and the very land on which they stand. In few places is that more evident than in Ellicott City’s Folly Quarter Manor and Equestrian Estate, a piece of our nation’s past on the market for $7 million.

The asking price includes a magnificently appointed 8,000-square-foot stone manor house, an 1,800-square-foot guest house, a caretaker’s cottage, a 10-stall horse barn, pool, tennis courts and gardens to rival any English manor.

But there is more. This incomparable equestrian estate, sitting on 47 acres of rolling hills and prime Howard County pastureland with its own pond and trout stream, possesses something even more rare — a pedigree traced from a prominent 18th-century landholder to a Founding Father, a newspaper mogul and an industrialist-turned-racetrack tycoon.

Be sure not to miss the slide show at the head of this article.

As with Doughoregan, Folly Quarter is practically around the corner from where I live. Although the Manor House is private property, I intend to drive by and see if it is visible from the road.

[8/13/2015- Pat has provided the following correction/clarification:

Folly Quarter Manor and Equestrian Estate’ was built in 1936 by the owner of Pimlico, on land once owned by Charles Carroll. It is not the ‘Folly Quarter’ manor built by Emily Caton McTavish in 1832, which is now part of the Shrine of Saint Anthony.

I haven’t mentioned the St. Anthony Shrine, but it also is very local to me, and well worth a visit.]

And speaking of Doughoregan – which I can now spell, praise be! – I was about to give up on finding out anything more about the place’s current status when my research, which has become somewhat obsessive in recent days, yielded an interesting nugget. An active business and farming operation exists on the Manor’s grounds. It’s called Carroll Farm-To-Table. They raise, cattle, pigs, and chickens, and they state on their web site that they adhere to the agricultural practices of their forebears:  ‘no hormones, antibiotics or other artificial additives that change the quality and taste.  We like to call it “Traditional Taste”.’

Here’s an article about Carroll Farm-To-Table that appeared in Howard Magazine this past May. How I managed to miss this, I don’t know. Or I may have seen it and not read it closely enough to realize that it was Doughoregan Manor that was being written about. (This magazine is delivered gratis to the house.)

A lovely old stone house on the corner of Frederick Road and Manor Lane is currently available for rent. You can just about take it in before being turned away by  the No Trespassing sign: rentalproperty manor lane . I do not know whether  this property is part of the older estate.

An article about Doughoregan on the site Waymarking notes that “…the Carroll family zealously guards their privacy.”

Jehanne Wake, who is British, came by her interest in the Caton sisters while she was researching the subject of the relationship of early nineteenth century women to money and investing. While digging into the archives of ING Barings Bank in 2001, she came across a letter from an ‘E. Caton:’

It was extraordinary. Her voice was so vivid and beguiling, so intelligent and authoritative–on the subject of investments and speculations, no less.

Turns out that among their several virtues and talents, the sisters were dab hands at playing the markets in the early 1800s. Also, keep in mind that they were among the first to travel to the “Old World” and secure husbands of high status. (Having each been widowed and then remarried, Marianne and Louisa actually did this twice.) Bess held on to her unmarried status longer than any of her sisters, finally accepting a proposal from George Baron Stafford in 1836, by which time she was already in her mid forties. Unlike some of the marriages of the “dollar princesses” later in the 19th and  early 20th centuries, these unions possessed, at least to some degree, genuine affection on both sides.

Marianne Caton and Richard Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, at Dublin Castle, 1826. Wellesley was Marianne's second husband and the elder brother of the Dukee of Wellington

Marianne Caton and Richard Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, at Dublin Castle, 1826. Wellesley was Marianne’s second husband and the elder brother of the Duke of Wellington

This is an extremely complex and many-layered story. I have barely touched on its particulars. I need to apologize for any errors in this post. I welcome additions and/or corrections from those more knowledgeable than myself. Above all, I’d like to express my deep admiration for the prodigious research undertaken by Jehanne Wake in the service of this story. This book is a triumph of history vividly retold and brought to life. We Marylanders especially should be grateful. (And I am especially grateful to Pat of AAUW Readers for suggesting this title for our book discussion group.)

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A tale of two bookstores, with a digression concerning Maryland’s Eastern Shore

June 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm (books, Literature for young people, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Maryland, Music, Mystery fiction, Travel)

Recently I went to a Big Box bookstore, looking for two easy picture books. One was The Lion & the Mouse, Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous Caldecott winner; the other was Yoko’s Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells. I had seen them both at the library and simply had to have them for the forthcoming grandchild (Oh…Haven’t I mentioned…? She’s due in early October.  There will be plenty of time then for kvelling – don’t think there’s a word for this in English –  so for now, on with our story…)

Here are the books in question:

Admittedly, I have spent very little time in the area of this store devoted to children’s literature. Even so, I found it a confusing place. A surprisingly small space was allotted to what we in the library trade call easy picture books. They were primarily shelved spine out. Keep in mind, these books are  very thin. I had trouble making out the names of the authors and illustrators. And while there was a bay labeled “Newbery Award Winners,” there was no analogous location for winners of the immensely prestigious Caldecott Medal – or none that I could see, at any rate.

I looked around for a staff person and saw none. I then went to the customer service desk – no one there. I roamed freely, looking for anything resembling a sales associate, and still came up empty handed. I had a paperback and a couple of magazines, so I decided to check out at that point. There was a line, this being Memorial Day and the store being fairly crowded. My turn  finally came. Often when you check out at one of these stores, the sales clerk asks if you found everything you were looking for. This time, the clerk did not ask me that question.

He should have. I had my answer ready!

I returned home and ordered the  books from Amazon. They’re on their way to me, even as I write this.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago, in the matter of bookstores, it was a different story entirely.

Mystery Loves Company is located in the exquisite small town of Oxford, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

A word – actually several words –  of explanation first. The region known as the Eastern Shore is the part of Maryland that is East of the Chesapeake Bay. To get there, you cross the majestic William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge, more commonly known in these parts as the Bay Bridge (US  50/301).

When Ron and I go to the Eastern Shore, we stay at a lovely establishment in St. Michaels called The Inn at Perry Cabin. It is right on the water – the Miles River, to be exact, although strictly speaking the Miles is not a river but an inlet of the Bay. From this pleasant staging post, it is an easy task to reach Oxford. You  drive to tiny Bellevue and hop on board the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry. Established in 1683, it is believed to be America’s oldest privately owned and operated ferry service.

As ferry boats go, it is a small vessel, able to accommodate up to nine vehicles.

We went as walk-ons.  The three-quarters-of-a-mile distance is covered in about seven minutes. I dearly wished it were longer. It feels so wonderful to be out on the water. That particular water, by the way, is the Tred Avon River, the name of which, Wikipedia informs us, is a corruption of “Third Haven.” The Tred Avon is a tributary of the Choptank, which is in turn a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

(I had never heard of the Choptank until I read – with astonished wonder! –  John Barth‘s  magnum opus:  .)

Ferries have such a long reach back in human history, both real and mythic, all the way back to Charon, who, the ancients claimed, brought the dead from the land of the living across the water to the underworld. This thought put me in mind of The Isle of the Dead, the title of both Arnold Bocklin’s painting and the tone poem by Rachmaninoff. The two are brought together in this video clip:

Happily, our little ferry trip took us to a beautiful land of the living. Officially founded in 1683,  Oxford is a jewel of a town. As we walked along North Morris Street, we passed several beautifully tended homes and gardens. Several, though private residences,are designated historical landmarks.

In short order we attained Mystery Loves Company Booksellers.

Within its modest premises – it occupies a former bank building – can be found a veritable treasure trove of crime fiction titles and back issues of such magazines as Mystery Scene, Crime Spree, and the late lamented Mystery News. Was I in hog heaven? You betcha!

While I was blissfully browsing, another customer came in. He and the proprietor/owner, Kathy Harig, got into a lively discussion of the novels of Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason. I read Silence of the Grave, I put in, but was not crazy about it – too much angst involving the detective’s personal life. Now Karin Fossum – she is truly superb!

We mystery mavens live for spontaneous discussion outbursts like this one. And are we possessed of definite opinions? Speaking only for myself -indeed so! And yet  – we are always hungry for recommendations from other mavens.

I was especially pleased to see that Kathy stocked a goodly number of titles from Felony & Mayhem. Here’s what I bought:

Because I’ve long been curious about this Golden Age classic;

Same with this title, and I loved The Moving Toyshop;

Because I really liked The Accomplice;

Because I thought Thunder Bay was outstanding, and because Marge gave a particularly compelling book talk on this title at a recent meeting of the Usual Suspects.

So: in the space of two weeks: a bookstore virtually devoid of staff (on a major holiday!), the staff that was actually present being bored, oblivious, and treating books like any other commodity; and a tiny little shop in a tiny little town on the water, filled with volumes known and loved by customers and owner alike.

Draw your own conclusions about what we are currently lumbered with, and the precious commodity that we’re in danger of losing.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

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