John F. Wilson Jr. is surrounded by family heirlooms in his home, called Obligation. The house sits on land granted in 1671 and is on the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage on May 21
John F. Wilson Jr. is surrounded by family heirlooms in his home, called Obligation. The house sits on land granted in 1671 and is on the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage on May 21 (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

Obligation is the appropriately named Anne Arundel County estate owned by retired attorney John F. Wilson Jr. The vast chunk of property on which his 17th-century home stands was a land grant issued in 1671 by Charles Calvert to Thomas Stockett, who had immigrated from England.

"Obligation was an 'I owe you' from King Charles," Wilson explained, noting that the English king, once he was restored to the throne, felt obliged to the royalist Stockett family for their support during the Cromwell takeover. It is believed that this estate in the New World was repayment for the confiscation of their land in Kent County, England.

The home, built in the 1690s, and the 220 acres of land have been in the Wilson family since 1947. Wilson and his relatives are, surprisingly, the only owners after Stockett and his descendants.

Like most old houses - in this case, more than 300 years old — Obligation has its own little slice of history that will be on display as part of the Maryland Home and Garden Pilgrimage on May 21.

"It was in poor condition when Mother bought it," remembered Wilson, 79. "Squatters were living here and raising chickens inside [and] there was no indoor plumbing or heat except for fireplaces."

Obligation had always been a tobacco farm, and while chickens inhabited the front rooms, the squatters were also stripping great leaves of tobacco in the parlor at the rear of the home.

When the Wilson family moved in, they cleaned out every nook and cranny. They installed indoor plumbing, baseboard hot-water heat, a new roof and replacement windows. Each room — four up and four down — has its own fireplace. An indoor kitchen that dated to before the Wilsons' ownership was just recently updated in 2006. Among other modern creature comforts are two marble bathrooms and air conditioning.

Today, Wilson owns the main house and a smaller, tenant home on the property, while his brother, Christopher Wilson, and sister-in-law live in a third house on the land and run a boarding farm for horses.

A solid brick Colonial, with interior brick walls covered in plaster, the house has proven indestructible over the years. The interior is the worthy repository of family heirlooms, inherited silver pieces too numerous to count, additional antiques picked up in recent times and lovely objets d'art from Wilson family travels.

In the dining room, for example, the light hanging over the table from a 12-foot ceiling is a silver varnished sacristy lamp from a long-gone Catholic church. A large corner fireplace in plaster over brick features a hewn mantel displaying plates and covered bowls of Delft ware.

Wilson points out a carved mahogany table adjacent to the fireplace, an antique mint julep table, a prized heirloom from his mother's family home in South Carolina. The marble top was used to crush the mint while a drawer in the table's center pedestal stored bottles of liquor.

"All of this silver has to be polished before the tour," said Wilson, looking from the dining room to a table in the center hall. Obligation will be open to the public along with several other beautiful and historic homes that are part of the pilgrimage in Anne Arundel County. "We'll have a polishing fest; I have two people to help."

A drop-leaf mahogany table in the hall is one of six dating from the early 1800s. Wilson and his brother were each given one of these Wilson family heirlooms.

Wilson fashioned his oval dining table into two drop leafs. This hall table displays a pair of sugar and creamer vessels dating to 1785 as well as two silver fruit baskets and two silver candelabras.

Paintings, both modern and antique portraiture in the style of Charles Wilson Peale, hang on the walls of the southeast parlor where a hand-loomed, 8-foot-by-11-foot carpet from Afghanistan is spread over the home's original wide-plank pine flooring. Here, a pair of William and Mary side chairs dating from the 1690s and the second drop-leaf table displaying another candelabra and various pieces of sterling take center stage.

"I use different rooms for different times of day," Wilson said, walking toward his southwest parlor. The two parlors are separated by the back door of the home.

In this parlor, which Wilson refers to as the "coffee and brandy room," an early 20th-century chandelier lights the room without electricity. Eight hollow candles filled with lamp oil are lit for evening entertainment. An original Queen Anne lowboy and a pair of lamps fashioned from Wedgewood flower vases are standouts in this room.

Of all the antique pieces in Obligation, the home's most personal would have to be those hung on the upstairs hallway walls. Within two frames, one hung above the other, are the original 1671 land grant papers. On the other side of the hallway window is a framed survey of the land dating to 1717. An office, guestroom with private bath and master suite occupy the second level, its rooms filled with such antiques as a cannonball bed dating to 1840, a pair of Victorian "Mother and Father Chairs," a tiger wood sleigh bed, an 1810 secretary and original Don Swann etchings of historic Annapolis buildings.

"Here is a wooden lock that has never been off its hinges," said Wilson, emphasizing the word "never" while pointing to the downstairs back door hardware.

"Never," in more that 300 years. That fact alone hammers home the treasure that is Obligation.

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Making the dream

Dream element: The 300-year-old Obligation estate sits on private property dating to 1671. Horses graze on land filled with linden, tulip, oak and poplar trees. Stables and two other homes dot the estate's 220 acres. "The nice thing is [that] we own everything you can see," said John F. Wilson Jr., standing on his back porch.

Dream design: Solid brick construction defines the Colonial structure. Sometime in the 19th century, the building was expanded from its original one and a half stories to three levels.

Dream interior: Silver, paintings and memorabilia fill every room of Obligation, and include paintings of the South Carolina family homes of Wilson's mother.