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Forest Heights in Prince George's County, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

After the Addisons

Oxon Hill in the 19th and 20th Centuries

 
 
After the Addisons Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), December 22, 2018
1. After the Addisons Marker
Inscription.  
The Berry Years

Prosperous planter Zachariah Berry owned thousands of acres in Prince George's County before purchasing Oxon Hill Manor from the Addison Family in 1810. Little is known about his activity on the estate–indeed, it is unlikely that he ever lived there, instead allowing his youngest son Thomas to reside at Oxon Hill Manor and farm the property.

Thomas successfully managed Oxon Hill until the death of his father in 1845, at which time he inherited the property. Thomas himself died in 1854 or 1855, and Oxon Hill passed to his son and namesake, Thomas Jr. Like his grandfather, Thomas Jr. owned several estates throughout Prince George's County and likely did not reside at Oxon Hill Manor, possibly allowing his sons to manage the farm. This period of ownership witnessed the beginning of a steady decline that eventually led to the estate's neglect and the mansion's destruction.

Tobacco, so long the lifeblood of the plantation economy, was by the mid-19th century no longer a viable commercial enterprise. Not only did it exhaust the soil, but it also relied on slavery to grow and
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harvest the labor-intensive crops. After the Civil War and the end of slavery, many plantation owners sought various means to keep their lands profitable.

At Oxon Hill, the Berry's experimented with agricultural diversification, growing corn, oats, and sweet and "Irish" potatoes in addition to raising livestock. They also continued the tradition of leasing out portions of their land to tenants, who farmed the land in exchange for rent.

Thomas Berry, Jr.'s mental health declined quickly in the 1870s. Following a series of domestic disputes with his wife and sons, questionable business dealings, and legal hearings over his alleged insanity, Berry died in 1879. To settle a portion of his debts, his sons subdivided the Oxon Hill estate and sold it off in pieces, including the manor house property in 1888. After years of neglect, the mansion was destroyed by fire early one winter morning in 1895.

"Another one of Maryland's historic mansions has been destroyed. The spacious dwelling house on Oxon Hill, overlooking the Potomac river, in Prince George's county, opposite Alexandria, caught fire last night, and was left a wreck by the flames at daybreak this morning. This mansion has long been one of the landmarks of the neighborhood of Washington...and with the mansions at Mount Vernon, Belvoir, and Carlisle House, on the Virginia side of the Potomac
After the Addisons Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), December 22, 2018
2. After the Addisons Marker
River, made up the noted mansions of the neighborhood in colonial days."

Baltimore Sun, February 7, 1895

Oxon Hill Manor Reborn

Sumner and Mathilde Welles purchased 245 acres on the former Oxon Hill estate in 1927. Sumner was a noted diplomat and his wife Mathilde an heiress to the Pennsylvania Railroad fortune. They commissioned Washington architect Jules Henri de Sibour to design a lavish, Neo-Georgian Mansion, surrounded by extensive landscaped gardens.

Completed in 1929, the new Oxon Hill Manor became a center of political and social life in the area, much like it was for the Addisons two hundred years earlier. Sumner Welles served as Ambassador to Cuba and as Under Secretary of State to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Welles is credited with promoting the "Good Neighbor" policy towards Latin America and was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations.

Oxon Hill Manor was reportedly a favorite spot of Roosevelt, who visited the estate often. It is rumored that Roosevelt arranged a covert meeting with the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill there in 1942, although this likely never happened. The Welleses sold the estate in 1952, and it is currently operated by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

A Healing Landscape

Mount Welby
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was a small farmstead purchased from the Addisons' Oxon Hill estate in 1797. Overlooking Oxon Cove and the Potomac River, the farm has been a witness to several important moments in history, including the burning of Washington during the War of 1812.

In 1891, the federal government purchased Mount Welby for use by the Government Hospital for the Insane (later St. Elizabeths Hospital) located nearby. St. Elisabeths renamed the property "Godding Croft" and operated it as a therapeutic farm. Patients and their caregivers lived on and farmed the property, a practice that was common for many mental institutions at the time. St. Elizabeths also used Godding Croft as a source of food, harvesting sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips and beets as well as planting an orchard. They also raised livestock on the farm, including pigs, dairy cattle, and poultry.

The Godding Croft property was entrusted to the National Park Service in 1959 to protect its national and cultural resources from encroaching urban development. Since 1967, the National Park Service has operated Oxon Hill Farm as a living history museum and educational farm, teaching children and other visitors about the story of the land, its rich history, and how it has changed over time.

[Image captions:]
Alexandria, Virginia from the Maryland side of the Potomac, 1861
Throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Addisons and Berrys leased a portion of their estate to ferry operators, whose ferries connected Prince George's County with Alexandria at the foot of King Street. In the 1860s, a hotel also operated on the property.

Martenet's Map of Prince George's County
This 1861 map depicts the "Oxen Hill" property being owned by Thomas E. Berry, the third generation of the Berry Family to own the estate.

U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Map
This 1903 map shows the former site of Oxon Hill, the adjacent Godding Croft Hospital, and the Old Ferry Landing.
 
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: AgricultureIndustry & CommerceSettlements & SettlersWaterways & Vessels. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #32 Franklin D. Roosevelt series list. A significant historical date for this entry is February 7, 1895.
 
Location. 38° 47.371′ N, 77° 0.872′ W. Marker is in Forest Heights, Maryland, in Prince George's County. Marker can be reached from National Harbor Boulevard south of Capital Beltway (Interstate 95), on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 121 North Cove Terrace, Oxon Hill MD 20745, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Architecture of Oxon Hill Manor (within shouting distance of this marker); Archaeology at Oxon Hill (within shouting distance of this marker); Africans Becoming Americans (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); The First People (about 700 feet away); Discover Gorgeous Southern Prince George's (approx. 0.2 miles away); Franklin D. Roosevelt (approx. 0.2 miles away); Dwight D. Eisenhower (approx. 0.2 miles away); Skipjacks (approx. 0.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Forest Heights.
 
More about this marker. The spelling of "St. Elizabeths" is intentional. This is the historical and currently used spelling of the area.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on January 5, 2020. It was originally submitted on December 22, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 328 times since then and 18 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on December 22, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. • Andrew Ruppenstein was the editor who published this page.

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Apr. 12, 2024