PORT TOBACCO - Rose Hill, a mansion overlooking the Port Tobacco River in Charles County, is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Southern Maryland.
One of its most illustrious owners was Dr. Gustavus R. Brown, son of the man who built the mansion about 1730. Brown was a friend of George Washington, who visited Rose Hill several times, and was the physician who attended the former president at the time of his death.
Today Rose Hill is owned by a couple who also had presidential connections.
Charles E. Stuart, 65, and his wife, Connie, 64, held senior positions in the Nixon White House and acquired the property in 1972, the year Richard M. Nixon won his second term.
The Stuarts bought Rose Hill from Mr. and Mrs. Frank Wade, who owned the house for 12 years.
"We lived in Great Falls [Va.] at the time, but I worked in Charles County," said Charles Stuart, sitting on an 18th-century couch in Rose Hill's finely furnished living room. "When I started to fall asleep driving home on the Beltway, I knew it was time to move to Charles County."
Living at Rose Hill means the Stuarts are 40 minutes from Washington and 90 minutes from Baltimore.
Having a historic place allows the Stuarts to indulge their interest in old homes and antiques. They regularly attend auctions to add to their vast collection of furniture and art.
Connie Stuart also is active in La Plata, the county seat, and its theater group, the Port Tobacco Players, having once starred in its production of Mame. The former drama major at the University of Maryland later became a member of its Board of Regents.
Charles Stuart has been keeping active, too. Aside from his various business interests, his weekend projects at Rose Hill have included installing a swimming pool and making bookshelves for the library. "Life is too short to not have interests," he said.
The Stuarts grew about 15 acres of tobacco at Rose Hill until two years ago, when they turned to other crops to take advantage of a state incentive program that seeks to reduce tobacco growing.
The farm also grew corn until 1972, when, according to Charles Stuart, "It stopped being a financial enterprise."
One of the property's finest characteristics is the 10 acres of terraced lawn in front of the house planted by Dr. Brown's father.
Dr. Brown's father planted boxwoods in the front and the back that resemble a small 17th-century English maze.
Old rose garden
The father also planted a rose garden from which the mansion derived its name. The garden still exists, although it does not resemble the original half circle within a square design.
In keeping with its Georgian architectural style, Rose Hill focuses on symmetry. Under the Georgian style, for example, chimneys on one side of a home are matched by chimneys on the other side.
Thus, Rose Hill's main house is flanked by two identical wings. The main house also has two large chimneys on each end, and each wing has an identical, smaller chimney. (The mansion has 11 working fireplaces.)
In the 18th century, one of the wings was used as a two-story summer kitchen.
But Charles Stuart removed the second story and converted the summer kitchen into a trophy room for the game he and his wife hunted in British Columbia.
The most striking of the trophies is a bison, which is displayed high above a large moose head over a fireplace mantel.
Aside from the main house, Rose Hill contains 22 freestanding buildings, including seven single-family rental homes.
Other structures include a four-car garage, a greenhouse, a lighted tennis court, a swimming pool, five tobacco barns, three equipment sheds, two horse stables, an indoor riding arena, an outdoor riding ring and a country store.
The riding arena, which was his project, is currently being rented out.
200 acres of woods
Rose Hill's 366 acres contain gardens, ponds, a stream - affectionately dubbed "Hog Hole Run" - 70 acres of crop and pastureland and more than 200 acres of woods.
The seven single-family homes have two to four bedrooms - most are two stories high - and are individually named.
The 6,000 square feet of the main house contains many fine pieces, from antique oriental rugs to 18th-century furniture and mugs from around the world.
Rose Hill appears lived in, although it is a true museum of historical treasures.
Books line the walls of the upstairs library and office. Charles Stuart loves old books, especially his leather-bound editions of The Count of Monte Cristo and other works by Alexander Dumas.
Rose Hill mansion, which contains six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, has been renovated twice.
The first renovation was in the 1930s, when the home was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Carlos Gravenberg.
Due to major structural restoration, the entire process took seven years. Among the renovations was the addition of running water and electricity.
In 1955, when the house was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Ryerson, the water and electricity were upgraded, and the renovations that the Gravenbergs began were continued.
The 18th-century decorative borders have been restored in the interior. The earth-tone colors of each border correspond with the color and style of a room's fireplace mantel. The colors include dark blues and greens.
Seven different owners
The house has had seven different owners.
One of the most interesting was Olivia Floyd, an active Confederate messenger at the height of the Civil War.
Floyd, her sister, Mary, and brother, Robert Semmes, were willed the house in 1843 by Ignatius Semmes. Floyd became sole owner in 1848.
As the last link in a chain of a Confederate messengers, Floyd became accustomed to concealing money and documents for the Confederacy in a wooden boat model that had been carved by Robert Semmes.
After the war ended, Floyd was invited to attend a reunion in Louisville, Ky., as the guest of Confederate Col. Bennet Young, where she was honored for her services.
Floyd remained in Rose Hill until her death in 1905.
The Rose Hill estate contains an object of ghostly legend. It's a large stone that once marked the spot along an estate road where a man and his dog were murdered on Feb. 8, 1776, in a gold robbery, giving rise to "the legend of the blue dog."
The murderer buried his victims and the gold near the stone under a holly tree. (The stone later was moved when the road was paved but is still on the property.)
According to the legend, the ghost of the "blue dog" will appear every Feb. 8 - the anniversary of the murder - to watch over the house and guard the treasure.
Olivia Floyd, the last known person to have witnessed the apparition, reported her story to the Port Tobacco Times in 1897.