BOWIE – The Hazelwood mansion is different things to different people — a Revolutionary War hero’s home to some, a keyhole into the life of ordinary folks to others, a monument of three different periods to architects.
What it’s not is the majestic farmhouse that once presided over the bustling Patuxent River port of Queen Anne’s, just south of what is now Bowie in Prince George’s County.
Hazelwood is now a dilapidated symbol of that house. Its faded, whitewashed exterior and boarded-up windows — with imitation panes painted on — give it the look of a ghost house.
But Fred Tutman sees past the decay and the painted-on window panes into the region’s largely unchronicled past.
“It is an artifact that people can point to and look at, a symbol of gracious living in days gone by,” said Tutman, 40, who grew up across the street from the mansion but never visited it until April.
“It activates the imagination,” Tutman said of the house, which is not visible from the road. “It never occurred to me that that caste of life lived so near to me.”
Hazelwood sits on a hill off of Queen Anne Road, about a half-mile from the Patuxent River, in what used to be called Queen Anne’s Town.
The house was built in three parts and three distinct styles.
The southernmost portion of the mansion, 1.5-stories high with a gambrel roof, dates to the late 1700s or before. Thomas Lancaster Lansdale, a major in the Maryland regiment during the Revolutionary War, moved into it at the close of hostilities.
Around the beginning of the 19th century, Lansdale began building a three-story Federal-style house just north of the original structure. At the time, the port town was a busy commercial center and a distribution point for tobacco. It remained a vital port until the mid-1800s, when the river became unnavigable.
Between 1850 and 1860, a central, Victorian section was built, linking the existing structures. The Maryland Historical Trust said the last section “was elaborately embellished with marble mantels and plaster medallions, the exterior cornices with large Italianate brackets, and the tall chimneys with decorative panelling and corbelling.”
The finished house has 21 rooms, with stairways for each section.
Its last owner was J. Paul Smith, who bought the house in 1937 and installed modern amenities like central heat. But it had again fallen out of repair when he sold it to the Maryland- National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 1976.
“If it could be restored, you would have three distinct periods of Maryland architecture right there,” said David Fogle, director of the graduate program in historical preservation at the University of Maryland.
“It’s romantic, it’s unique. There’s nothing like it anyplace else,” Fogle added.
But you have to squint to see the romance in modern Hazelwood.
Inside, the house has the smell of old clothes left too long in a musty basement. Black plastic tubes course through its darkened hallways to provide minimal ventilation. A few functioning light bulbs make up for the dearth of natural light.
Plaster rains down from the ceilings, some of which have suffered water damage. Paint peels off of the walls. The marble fireplace mantels that weren’t stolen by vandals have been removed to storage.
But, still, the house’s advocates hold out hope that its proud past could be revisited.
Since taking over the building, the Park and Planning Commission has provided minimal care — paying utilities and providing a new roof — while hoping for a knight in shining armor to come to the rescue.
The cost for renovations has been estimated at $1.4 million. An individual or organization could restore it through a curatorship program, then occupy it once the renovation is done, said Mary Haley-Amen, a historian with park and planning.
Haley-Amen envisions a family, a law firm or the University of Maryland’s architecture school undertaking the project.
“The house is definitely restorable,” she said, noting that it is structurally sound despite its dilapidated appearance. “It needs a purpose, though.”
Fogel thinks the house would make an excellent campus center for conservation studies. He estimates that, with the use of student labor, it could be restored for half the estimated $1.4 million. But he notes that the university is “skittish” about taking on new property.
In the meantime, the Friends of Hazelwood Society is attempting to raise money to bring the house back to life.
Dorothy Smith, who was raised and who married in the house, is now president of the Friends of Hazelwood Preservation Society. To her, the house represents the haunts of her youth.
The society’s first goal is to restore a combination smokehouse/privy located in the back of the house — one of only two such structures remaining in the county.
Tutman, meanwhile, hopes the well-documented history of Hazelwood will lend insight into Queen Anne’s sketchier past.
When he toured the house for the first time, Tutman noticed that wooden slats showing through the plaster walls were very similar to those in his great-grandfather’s house across the road from Hazelwood, where he lived for a time as a child.
“It completed a connection for me. We never knew where that [slat] structure came from,” said Tutman, who is producing a television show on the relationships between rural history and modern society.
“We all have rural roots. Most of them are gone beyond retrieval,” Tutman said. “The house needs touch up, but it could be brought back.”