J. Richard Rivoire
8790, Mitchell Road, La Plata, Charles County
Thainston is a two-story, L-shaped brick house built in 1865 and enlarged early in the 20th century. Facing south, the five-bay main block features floor-to-ceiling windows sheltered by a full-width, one-story porch. Set on an east-west axis, the slate covered roof has a cross gable centered on the front and, on the opposite side, two blind paneled chimney stacks. Thainston's original design was that of a T-shaped structure, with its main stair housed in a shallow, tower-like projection centered on the rear elevation. This in turn abutted a frame, kitchen-service wing with a large interior chimney at its north end. The first floor plan of the main block includes a central passage flanked by two rooms, with three bedrooms above arranged in a U-shaped configuration off the rear stair passage. Original interior embellishments include bold window and door architraves, slate mantels, and plaster ceiling cornices and medallions. The rear wing, however, was altered in the early 20th century by brick veneering of the north and east elevations of the frame section, and by a brick, two-story extension of its west elevation. A one-story porch extends the full length of the east side of the wing, and off from this are a number of early dependencies, including a wellhouse, a brick dairy, a storage building, and a meathouse. To the east of these are the sites of a former icehouse and a frame, pyramid-roofed privy. A frame garage and large chicken house, both dating from the early 1900s, stand a short distance north of the wing. About 300 yards north of the main residence is a collection of agricultural buildings, consisting of tobacco barns, cattle barns, and equipment sheds clustered around a corncrib/granary. Two of these buildings, including the crib/granary, date from the mid 19th century or earlier, with the balance built at various times during the first quarter of the 20th century. Sited in different locations beyond these are three frame tenant houses, all basically structurally sound, but long abandoned and now dilapidated, several associated sheds, a probably early building site, an early well, a pit remaining from a former icehouse, and the former ice ponds. Another early-20th century building, a tobacco barn, stands in a field to the west of the main grouping of agricultural buildings. Near it is what is traditionally said to be the site where the bricks used in constructing the house and dairy were made and fired. Near this is the site of an early barn. Most of the landscaping features proximate to the house itself, including a crescent-shaped planting of boxwood in front, date from the early 20th century. With the exception of the former tenant houses, all of the improvements on the property are in excellent condition.
Developed between 1865 and the 1930s, Thainston is a farm that is significant in the architectural and agricultural history of Charles County. The Civil War and the end of the institution of slavery upon which southern agricultural production was so dependent had a devastating economic impact on the lower Southern Maryland region, particularly Charles and St. Mary's counties. This impact manifested itself in a number of ways, including a cessation of measurable building activity that continued for several decades. A mere handful of architecturally noteworthy buildings date from the second half of the 19th century. Of this group, Thainston is the only one to have been built in that especially critical decade immediately following the war. Designed by Eben Faxon, a Baltimore architect, and constructed under the supervision of Charles Ogle, a building contractor also from Baltimore, it is one of a small number of highly important mid-19th century houses in Charles County known to have been designed and/or built by urban-oriented architects and contractors employed from Washington and Baltimore, but the only one for which substantial documentation survives relating to its actual construction. Thainston's spatial configuration, as well as many of its structural and decorative details, are clearly derived from architectural pattern books of the period. It is one of the county's first post-Civil War buildings whose design presaged a final departure from regionally traditional concepts of form and function that otherwise continued to characterize this regions architectural landscape well into the latter half of the 19th century. Also of significance is Thainston's unusually large number of surviving original domestic support structures, and the manner they were arranged off the kitchen-service wing of the house. One of these, the brick dairy, built by Charles Ogle in 1865, is of particular importance in a local context for its design and rarity. While most of the agricultural buildings, as well as houses provided for farm and domestic workers, date from the first decades of the 20th century, they, too, add to the historical interest of the site. No collections of farm buildings with late 19th or early 20th century origins of this stature and size have survived the county's current rapid transformation from rural agrarian to urban suburban. Seen as a whole, Thainston's buildings reflect the domestic and agricultural development of a Charles County property from the 1860s to the 1930s. With essentially the original boundaries, Thainston provides further record that could reveal information on agricultural undertakings, practices, and land uses through the vast acreages of farm fields not significantly disturbed over time.