WASHINGTON – The Addison family has a rich history in Maryland, dating back to the 17th century.
The family estate on the Potomac River in Prince George’s County was once considered as a site for the U.S. Capitol. George Washington was said to have visited and John Hanson may have visited permanently — historians believe Hanson may be buried on the site, but they have never found his body.
But if any Addison descendants wanted to take a closer look at the family history today, they would have to travel to Pennsylvania to do so. That’s where more than 150 boxes of artifacts excavated from the family estate have been sitting for the better part of a decade, waiting for private funding that will allow archeologists to analyze the goods.
“I don’t have the faintest idea of what’s going on,” with the collection, said William B.C. Addison Sr., 75, a retired farmer who now works part-time in real estate and lives in Bowie.
Nothing is going on with the Addison collection, say state officials, who are anxious to get the boxes back so they can begin piecing together another part of Maryland history.
“This was a very important site,” said Susan Pearl, a historian for the Prince George’s Park and Planning Commission. “We could possibly learn a great deal from such an important early plantation site in Prince George’s County.”
But work on the artifacts stopped in the late 1980s, after the developer who paid for their excavation ran out of money. The Addison site is just one example of an excavation project that had to be stopped because of a lack of funding, said Beth Cole, administrator of preservation services for the Maryland Historical Trust.
The recent Addison family saga began when Northern Virginia developer James T. Lewis proposed building PortAmerica on the site, a project that called for a 52-story office tower, retail shops and residences. Lewis hired the excavation firm John Milner Associates to dig up the land and analyze what it found there.
The firm finished the excavation, uncovering what appeared to a burned cellar and what may have been the remnants of slave quarters, among other finds. Those included items dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries, including what Cole described as ceramics, art and “anything you’d expect to find at a plantation site.”
But Lewis ran out of money just before an analysis of the finds could be done. Since then, the Addison artifacts have been left untouched and unidentified in a West Chester, Pa., warehouse.
Without the analyzed materials, “unfortunately a lot is still in limbo,” said Cole, who said the state wants its artifacts back.
“This was one of the largest sites of excavation in Maryland,” Cole said. “We feel very strongly about getting the resources in Maryland for future use.”
Help may come soon, in the form of the Peterson Cos., the latest developer with plans for the site, now known as National Harbor. The first phase of the Peterson project calls for Opryland on the Potomac, a 2,000-room resort on the land just south of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.
Peterson has agreed to help fund analysis of the Addison materials.
“The role of our company is to provide financial support for getting artifacts curated,” said Lynne Hansen, senior vice president of the Peterson Cos.
Historians already know that the site dates back to 1690 when John Addison, a colonel of the Prince George’s Militia, settled at what was called Oxon Hill Manor. Pearl called Addison “a very important figure” in the county, saying he helped establish the Episcopal Church at St. Johns and was a member of the provincial governor’s council, which she referred to as a “very prestigious” advisory group.
The Addisons continued to live on the land until the middle 19th century when Thomas Berry purchased it. Pearl said both the Addisons and the Berrys were active in state politics and both were well-known “large-time landowners in Prince George’s County.”
The plantation burned down in 1895. All that stands now is a cemetery and another manor, built in 1929 a half-mile south of the former plantation.
Hansen said the Peterson Cos. hopes to display the artifacts in its new resort, which is set to open in 2005. But she said the company understands that, although it owns the land, the state owns the artifacts.
“By law, they belong to the state of Maryland,” she said. “Once it comes out of the ground it belongs to posterity.”