MHT File Photo
Poor House Road, Port Tobacco, Charles County
Retreat is a one-story, clapboard-sheathed, frame house basically ell-shaped in overall plan. The c. 1770 principal part of the house faces south-southwest and is of regionally traditional styling characteristic of its period, distinguished by a three-bay facade with an end door, and a high gable roof with peaked dormers. At one end stands a large double chimney of brick construction incorporating a flush, shed-roofed pent. Extending out from the rear of the house is a one-story, gable-roofed, frame wing with dormers and an exterior chimney. The wing is attached to the main block by a narrow, low-roofed, one-bay hyphen. The room configuration of the original part of the house consists of a side-passage and off-set stair with two adjacent rooms, and two rooms at the attic level. Much of the 18th century woodwork of this part of the house remains preserved, including simple but bold mantels with applied fretwork, ceiling cornices, chair rails, window and door trim, raised panel doors, and blind paneled wainscoting lining the stairwell and the end wall of the hall. Two attic doors with fixed glass panes above four raised panels are an especially interesting interior detail. The rear wing, joined to the main hall by a narrow, board-sheathed passage, contains two main rooms at the first floor and two attic chambers above. One of the first floor rooms features walls sheathed with flush beaded boards and exposed ceiling joists, while the adjacent room, now a modern kitchen, has exposed wall and ceiling framing. The wing, built c. 1800, originally stood off the chimney end of the main block and was moved to its present location c. 1910. A frame, pyramid-roofed meathouse, dating from the early 19th century and located near the rear wing, was moved here from another historic property in the county known as "Brentland" in 1953, and is the only surviving building associated with that property. Retreat, approached by a private gravel road, is surrounded by cultivated fields, meadows, and woodland, preserving its original agricultural and rural setting.
Retreat is architecturally significant as the earliest known example of the side-passage, two-room dwelling in Charles County. Probably built during the latter part of the third quarter of the 18th century, the house has a double-chimney with pent, unusual floor plan, and interesting woodwork. Features that clearly differentiate Retreat from other example of this house type are the narrow pent roof, oddly placed closet window, and irregular chimney weatherings combined with the flat topped projection to one side creating a composition that is distinct. It is one of very few pre-1780 houses in Charles County whose original integrity has survived essentially unaltered. Of particular importance is the unusual configuration of the hall, its boldly fashioned first floor trim and mantels, and the unique design of its paneled doors. Retreat is also of particular significance for its direct association with Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, one of Maryland's preeminent historical figures. Jenifer was instrumental in Maryland's political and economic development following the Revolutionary War, and as a Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention made numerous important contributions toward the creation of America's new Federal Constitution. Another prominent member of the Jenifer family directly associated with Retreat was Daniel Jenifer (1791-1855), son of Dr. Daniel Jenifer and grand-nephew of Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer. Daniel Jenifer, like his great uncle, served as a justice of Charles County before his election to the Maryland legislature. Jenifer was first elected to the United States House of Representatives as a National Republican in 1831, and served in the 22nd, 24th, 25th, and 26th Congresses. The remarkable preservation of so much of Retreat's original fabric, coupled with an extraordinary amount of historical documentation, and its association with one of Maryland's most distinguished early families, established Retreat as an architectural and historic landmark of singular importance.