A Colonial house party in honor of Washington


MONTPELIER Mansion in Laurel commemorated the 200th anniversary of George Washington's death last weekend with a Colonial-style ball.

Assisted by members of the Living History Foundation and the musical group MoonFire, the Friends of Montpelier created the type of a celebration that might have taken place 200 years ago.

Re-enactors dressed as Ann Ridgely Snowden -- wife of Maj. Thomas Snowden, the original owner of the house -- and her guests. Montpelier Mansion is believed to have been built shortly after their marriage.

The three members of MoonFire -- Elise Kress, Judy Marshall and Cathy Palmer -- were joined by Ellen James. They played Celtic and Colonial-era melodies in Montpelier's library for an appreciative audience of more than 70.

Kress, Marshall and Palmer play violin, hammer dulcimer, keyboards, flutes, guitar and seemingly every other nonbrass instrument except the harp, the specialty of guest artist James.

Montpelier's library, historians believe, was originally the counting house and office for the Snowdens' business ventures.

The outside of the library wing was elegantly appointed in Georgian style, but the office may have had a dirt floor and unplastered brick walls. But it is now a lovely room. The wood flooring, dating from the 1930s, was recently replaced with boards rescued from another historic site.

Palmer's daughters -- Christa and Abbie Palmer, clad in short black velvet dresses embroidered with Celtic knot-work -- joined the performance and danced to MoonFire's tunes on the pine floor.

After the music, guests retired to the main hall, where punch and cookies were offered by Friends of Montpelier -- and Mrs. Snowden. The lady wore a beautiful 1805-style gown, with a green spencer (short jacket) and long, straight white skirt with green rosettes along the hem.

Played by Bonnie Fairbank of the Living History Foundation, Mrs. Snowden gossiped and offered her guests light 18th century-style goodies: wine punch for the adults and raspberry punch for the little ones. For everyone, there was queen's cake studded with currants, Martha Washington sugar cookies made with rosewater, almond macaroons from a 1702 recipe, and Welsh tea cakes (the Snowdens are believed to have been Welsh).

Nancy Thiessen, a member of the Friends board of directors, was chief cook for these delicious morsels. According to the Friends president, Helen Bailey, Thiessen a fine cook and 18th-century cooking is her hobby. Board members helped make the pastries.

The cakes were less sweet than modern palates might expect, as sugar was expensive then.

After the light fare, guests retired for dancing in the other wing of the house.

As in many Georgian and Colonial-era mansions, the house is symmetrical, so the kitchen wing, now a reception room, is the same size and shape as the library.

In the reception room, the Port of Bladensburg Heritage Dancers performed country dances popular in Colonial times.

The group was formed in 1992 for the 250th anniversary celebration of the town of Bladensburg, and has kept on dancing.

Larry Palmer -- husband of Bladensburg dancer Cindy Palmer -- portrayed a dancing master. or teacher, and called the dances.

Dancing, he said, was considered part of a young woman's education and an important adjunct to a man's social skills and athletic training. As part of their education 200 years ago, young men also learned fencing. Dancing was considered the perfect exercise to strengthen muscles needed for the positions of classical fencing.

Dancing was so popular a pastime in the 18th century that, in the absence of partners of the opposite gender, couples of the same gender would dance. Especially in wartime, it was common to see women dancing with other women at formal balls.

What is less known, Palmer said, is that in military encampments where women were few, men danced with men. As the shirts of the period hung down to the knees, men dancing women's roles took off their breeches and danced in their shirts. Such dancing was only done in regimental settings -- not in public, and not at Montpelier's ball.

The Bladensburg dancers also included Susanna and Tim Yatman, Cindy and Paul Possinger, Gema Gonzalez, Bonnie Fairbank, Maggie Jehn, Helen Anderson and Jackie Geschickter. Joyce McDonald, a costumer associated with the group, made many of the outfits.

Help with market day

Bollman Bridge Elementary's PTA "Market Day" fund-raiser -- which involves buying food products from a catalog and picking up the items at school -- requires a dedicated group of volunteers.

They tally the orders, and process and pack them when the food comes in, just like a real job, only these fine folk don't get paid.

A round of applause for Rhonda Smith and her helpers Marcy DelGrosso, Bonnie Grooms, Mary Hutcheson, Georgea Moore, Barbara Rose and Justin Smith.

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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