Bladensburg's historic Bostwick house passed through three families in 255 years and each left their signature. Through renovations and additions, the centuries-old mansion has undergone as much change and growth as the town surrounding it.
In 1997, the city purchased it and Bladensburg officials are now waiting for the results of a feasibility study due this fall to decide how to best honor its legacy, while improving tourism and economic development in the area.
Some buildings on the Bostwick property date to the founding of Bladensburg in 1742. Then merchant and later town commissioner Christopher Lowndes built the first of four original structures, a detached summer kitchen, to anchor his claim to an acre of land in the new town. Lowndes and other owners would eventually add 6.7 acres to the grounds. The main house built in 1746 passed to his son-in-law, Benjamin Stoddert, who became first secretary of the Navy.
The Kyner family bought the home in 1903 and lived there for three generations. Their descendants, the Christophanes and Yatmans produced two mayors of Bladensburg.
The city purchased the property with funds from the state, county and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for a combined cost of $500,000.
Once the $30,000 feasibility study is complete, Bladensburg City Manager Rodney Foxworth plans to apply for a $50,000 grant to begin design and engineering work to develop the property. He said it would be at least a year and a half before any development begins on the site.
One possible use the city council is considering would include a conference center on 1.4 acres atop Lowndes Hill, behind the main house. Other options include a museum and tourist attraction or a reception hall.
In the meantime, though structurally sound, the interior of the house has fallen into disrepair.
For now, a family with a love of historic homes is working to stabilize the structure and wall surfaces on behalf of the town. Navy officers Reneé Richardson and her husband Stanley Richardson, with help from their four children and Renee's brother Mike Rivard, spend their off-hours and leave time working on the home because they would "hate to see a historic home deteriorate," said Renee. Their Navy housing allowance is kept in a town account used for materials and supplies for the rehab work.
Reneé said her family is not doing restoration work using age appropriate materials and tools, instead using modern, more durable methods while preserving the original look and feel. They replaced the kitchen ceiling with sheet rock and are using vinyl spackle and paints.
As far as living in the Bostwick House, she echoed words of Rosalie Stiers-Calvert in the book Mistress of Riversdale: "They thought it was drafty and had rats, which is pretty much the way it is now." The Stiers family lived at Bostwick from 1801 to 1803 while their own home Riversdale Mansion was being built.
Rivard said they often uncover previous repairs and can identify the different layers of addition and renovation work with help from the Prince George's Historical Society.
Rivard said most of the previous repair work and additions to the original structure were done very well, "and in some cases we're wondering what they were thinking."
For example, Reneé pointed to the intricate crown molding between the walls and ceiling. Prior owners added plaster, smoothing out the grooves curves and obscuring most of the craft, she said. The original molding consisted of wooden slats, covered by a layer of red clay dredged from local streams and mixed with horsehair, and finished with white plaster. Reneé said an exact renovation could run into the tens of thousands of dollars for this aspect alone.
Rivard will produce a computerized replica of the original molding's shape and they will have a lightweight covering made to hang over the original.
The drawing room will require extensive repair to the walls, ceiling and floor, including the preservation of two original frescoes painted above the two doors.
The detached summer kitchen and buildings outside the main house are currently being used for storage. In addition to the main brick buildings, Lowndes built a chicken coop and barn, which have since been connected. Another barn and shed were added later, though Richardson said the barn structure is severely damaged and likely to fall.
When the Richardsons leave, will take all of the furniture they brought and bought since moving in. Reneé said the only items that came with the house are hunting trophies that legend attributes to the kills of Buffalo Bill Cody, an entertainer and hunter who rode the rails with his Wild West Show in the early 19th century.
"The legend has a lot of credibility because [the Kyner family] were provisioners with the railroad from 1903 onward," she said. "It's highly likely they would have run into Buffalo Bill regularly during that time."