Preservation 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. 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.
With 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.
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.
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.