Monthly Archives: April 2013

Gaithersburg Book Festival

Dorothy and I are first up in the Dashiell Hammett tent. Check out all other amazing talks (just not the ones at 10:00).


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April 27, 2013 · 5:38 pm

Join Us on Saturday

DayoftheBookWe will be reading and selling at Kensington’s Annual Day of the Book this Sunday, April 21st. We’ll be reading from 12:45-1:00, but selling and signing all day. Please come by and see us!

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On Anniversaries, Apparitions, and Abnormal Weather

April 12th marks the 258th anniversary of the start of the British expedition to capture Fort Duquesne. The junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers was strategically important for the fur trade and westward expansion. The British were determined to secure this important site from the French, who had dominated the region. To that end, they sent one of their most experienced military leaders, Major General Edward Braddock, and well trained British troops.

This must have been a very alien land for the British, unused to the harsh reality of a country that was still very wild. In order to reach their destination, his troops would have to build the road they were to travel from Cumberland to present-day Pittsburgh. Braddock’s adviser on the expedition was a young George Washington, who had become very familiar with the country because of his own travels, who commanded a company of Virginia militia. The group split with half traveling through Virginia and half traveling through Maryland, with the intention of meeting at Cumberland. The Maryland contingent crossed from Alexandria to the Mouth of Rock Creek, landing on April 12. They then traveled north following roads that today encompass parts of River Road,Old Georgetown Road, and Route 355 (Wisconsin Avenue, Rockville Pike, Hungerford Road, and Frederick Road).

Dowden's Ordinary

Dowden’s Ordinary, ca.1900. From the collections of the Montgomery County Historical Society.

The weather in early April, 1755 was warm and sultry; probably similar to what we have been experiencing the past few days. You can only feel a little sorry for those British redcoats, traveling in their heavy wool uniforms on rough roads and uphill almost all the way. By the 15th, the weather had changed from hot and sultry to cold and rainy. By the time they camped that night at Dowden’s Ordinary in present-day Clarksburg, things had turned to snow and travel was treacherous.

They woke the next morning to what sound like blizzard conditions with “the snow being so violent we were oblig’d to beat it off the tents several times for fear it would Breck the tent Poles,” as one soldier reported. They couldn’t move until the 17th, when the weather cleared.

Was such bizarre spring weather a portent of what was to come? Shades of global warming? If only Braddock had headed the signs…

When they finally reached Cumberland in May, they were faced with a dreary sight – not enough food, guns, ammunition, horses, or wagons, to properly continue the expedition. Undeterred, Braddock left half his force to await supplies and forged on. It was rough going. His men had to build a road that could handle the traffic created by a marching army.  It wasn’t until July that they approached their destination where they were at a clear disadvantage. British troops were used to battlefield combat, using orderly fighting methods. The French had quickly adopted the fighting style of the Native Americans to whom they were allied and which worked better in the heavily wooded country.

Braddock and his men were ambushed. They were trapped on the road they had been building, surrounded on all sides by the enemy, it was a massacre. By the time the British could retreat, General Braddock had received a mortal wound.

And so today, in the low lying areas along the River Road and the Great Road, residents have said they can hear the sounds of an army marching…eternally marching to their death.


Today the site of Dowden’s Ordinary is an archaeological park for M-NCPPC. A skeletal structure has been created to show the size of Dowden’s.


Also in the park is the marker placed by the DAR to commemorate the event.


Filed under Bethesda, Potomac

Major Peter Is Rolling Over in His Grave

DSC00110_back_panorama_editPreservation Maryland has recently released their 2013 list of Maryland’s most endangered historic sites. One of the ten sites listed is our own Montanverde. The house is considered one of Montgomery County’s great manor houses, having been built for Major George Peter around 1810.DSC00115_front_edit Montgomery County was sparsely populated when Montanverde was built. It was intended to be a summer retreat for Peter and an income producing property as well. There was good farmland, and the red Seneca sandstone which Peter quarried was used for many important buildings in Washington, D.C. including the Smithsonian Castle. He purchased the land on the recommendation of George Washington, an old family friend.

DSC00114With our modern vantage point, it’s hard to think of Montanverde as a grand manor house. From this side view you can see that it was a narrow house, only one room wide. The main block of the house has two rooms flanking a central hall; the second floor the same. Each wing is one room, although I could see through the window that one of the wings had been broken up for what looked like a closet. Six rooms in all! (You wouldn’t have guessed from the size of the house that the Major fathered 16 children. Talk about having to share a room!)

The house is reached by a steep driveway, worn away over the years with high side walls and a ravine running down the middle. Needless to say we walked.


Looking in through one of the windows. Unfortunately it was a bright day and I couldn’t avoid the reflections on the glass.

The value of Montanverde, historically, is its association with the Peter family. George Peter, who built the house, lived there from 1810 to 1861. He may have been the County’s first political boss, having served in Congress himself as well as directing the political careers of others. He was also a war hero, having commanded the only militia that rallied to hold back the British in Bladensburg. The Battle of Bladensburg (or the Bladensburg Races as it is disparagingly referred to) did little to stop the British from invading the nation’s capital.

Major Peter lived large in life and, apparently in death as well. He was fond of celebrating by tossing his glass into the fireplace when finished. The sound of breaking glass was still evident many years later. His spirit was also in the habit of moving furniture to a more agreeable location. The sight of a stately gentleman has also been seen in the east bedroom, his room in death as it was in life.

Looking down the long, steep drive

What will happen to Montanverde now? The house has been empty for some time and even though the roof looked in reasonable shape (no gaping holes), a house of this age can deteriorate quickly if left empty too long. The property has 13 acres, a very attractive prospect for any developer. Let’s hope the attention brought about by its listing as an endangered site will help get it the protection it deserves.


A rusting plow gives testament to Montanverde's agricultural past. The house can be seen beyond the trees.

A rusting plow gives testament to Montanverde’s agricultural past. The house can be seen beyond the trees.


Filed under Seneca, Uncategorized

Q & A with Karen Lottes and Dorothy Pugh

We recently did a Q & A for the Gaithersburg Book Festival. You can read the interview online at the GBF blog.

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April 8, 2013 · 8:51 pm

A Face in the Window


The Miller’s House is the small building in the far right of the image.

If it’s true that the eyes are the windows to the soul, then are windows the eyes to a house? Or a haunted house at least? As my home’s windows are currently boarded up waiting for an upgrade, I was thinking about faces in windows and what they can tell the outside world. When I first began researching possible haunted properties in Montgomery County, I looked at some of the paranormal message sites online. There were a number of stories that involved faces in the windows of abandoned properties. I wasn’t always able to follow that up with something more substantial and so most of those places didn’t make it into the book (at least not volume 1, who knows about volume 2).

Recently I was at an event with a woman who went to school with some of the Archer boys who grew up in the Madison House in Brookeville. She remembered their stories of a face in the window of the Miller’s House, a small building adjacent to the Madison House. When the Archer’s moved in, they had to restore both buildings to habitability. The Miller’s House was a much smaller building than the Madison House and was banked, meaning it had a ground level first floor and a walkout basement. The face, seen apparently on more than one occasion, belonged to a young woman looking in a window on the back of the building; the banked side! That meant she either had to be on a tall ladder or floating in space! As there was no ladder available…I’ll let you draw the appropriate conclusion. Who was this apparition? The Archers thought it might have belonged to the resident poltergeist, Nancy Helen Riggs. Her name appeared one evening when the family decided to try out a Ouija board. They had no idea that something as specific as a name would be spelled out by the unseen hand that moved the planchette about the board.

Have you ever experienced the uneasy sight of a face in a window where none could be?

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Filed under Brookeville