Photo credit: Christopher Weeks , 11/1989

Property Name: Sion Hill
Date Listed: 4/30/1990
Inventory No.: HA-525
Location: 2026, Level Road (MD 155), Havre de Grace, Harford County

Description: Sion Hill is a three-part brick Georgian/Federal house with a 2 1/2-story, five-bay, gable roofed center section, flanked by two matching 2-story, single pitched roofed wings. The western wing was built as a private boys' academy and the eastern wing for service. The main facade, facing the Chesapeake Bay to the south, has a central entrance door and pedimented porch, a three-part second story window with an elaborate arrangement of pilasters and dentiled and incised entablature, and a lunette attic window which is centrally placed within a modillioned and pedimented attic gable. The double door is flanked by six-light sidelights. Side windows, two per floor, are 9/9 beneath flared stone lintels with bold keystones. Massive flush chimneys heighten the overall effect of verticality and impressive grandeur. Both main facades have two-brick high beltcourses. The flanking wings are two stories tall and one bay wide beneath sloping, single-pitched roofs. On the wings, a single 12/8 sash window on the first floor and 6/6 sash window on the second pierce the south facade. The east and west elevations of the wings are four bays wide. The east facade holds with 6/6 sash windows with segmental arches on the first floor and 6/3 windows on the second, all with batten shutters. Above the wing, two small 6-light windows flank the massive chimney. The west end of the wing holds a door in the south bay and 9/6 windows in the other bays, with 6/3 sash windows above. Near the center of the west gable end of the main block is a single window, now filled with a louvered vent. Fenestration of the north facade is very similar to the south, but the center bay holds a less elaborate door with a four-light transom, and second-floor central window matches the others on that floor. The first floor of each wing on this facade holds an entrance. On the interior, the main section has a broad center hall plan. The stair rises in four open flights to the attic, and has simple, Federal balusters, rail, and newel post. The main feature in the hall is the pilastered segmental arch which is identical to the one leading to the stair alcove. The house contains a bountiful amount of high quality and high style woodwork such as chair rails, mantels and overmantels, cornices, paneled doors, hardware, etc. Trim in the Winter Dining Room is particularly notable, as befits the space used for formal entertaining; the elaborate fireplace is not known to have a specific book source for inspiration; the opening is bordered by original blue and white Delft tiles; the entire fireplace is flanked by cabinets, all original. The grounds contain a vestigal garden which seems to be contemporaneous with the house. A late-18th century two-story brick tenant house, two c. 1930 stone outbuildings (a garage and a pump house), and a c. 1900 frame barn also stand on the property.

Significance: The house was begun c. 1785 by the Rev. John Ireland. In 1795, Ireland sold the unfinished structure to merchant Gideon Denison, who then died in 1799 with the house still unfinished. It passed to his daughter Minerva, who, with her husband Commodore John Rodgers, would finish the house. Since their marriage in 1806, Sion Hill has been identified with the Rodgers family. Minerva and John Rodgers gave the main facades a richness of period details such as keystoned splayed stone window lintels, and sophisticated architectural treatments unique in Harford County and worthy of urbane centers such as Georgetown, where Rodgers also had a home. Sion Hill is significant as the seat of the seafaring Rodgers family. Their generations-long careers cover the world and affect virtually every aspect of American Naval history from the presidency of Thomas Jefferson to the New Deal. The family's transcendently important affiliation with the Navy begins with the exceptional career of Commodore John Rodgers (1772-1839) and his triumphs over the Barbary pirates (1802-06) whose fleet he vanquished and with whom he negotiated treaties which mark some of America's earliest diplomatic successes. During the War of 1812 Rodgers was responsible for many of the (few) victories the American Navy had over superior British foes. He was for years the Navy's ranking officer. Rodgers (working with President Thomas Jefferson) was instrumental in constructing the country's first gunboats and in establishing the nation's first drydocks. He also began the Navy's support system of hospitals, established what became the Naval Observatory in Washington, and constructed the Navy's first steam-powered battleship. Rodgers was the first to see the need for a Naval Academy. He planned its initial curriculum and continuously lobbied for its establishment at Annapolis. He died before it could be officially opened in 1845, but nephew Christopher Rodgers served as the Academy's president in the 1870s. After Commodore Rodgers' death, four generations of his direct descendents maintained the family's exceptionally significant presence in the Navy. Commodore John Rodgers II (1812-1992) was honored by Lincoln during the Civil War, was president of both the United States Naval Institute and the first Naval Advisory Board and superintendent of Naval Observatory, which his father, the first Commodore, had founded. Admiral John Rodgers (1848-1933) brought wireless telegraphy to the Navy. Commander John Rodgers (1881-1926) was a pioneer in Naval aviation and was first commandant of the air base at Pearl Harbor. Sion Hill is still owned by direct descendents of Commodore Rodgers, although the male line ended in 1933, and was home to each of these Rodgers' and their families. The finest high-style house known to have been constructed in rural Harford County, Maryland in the 18th century, Sion Hill is virtually unchanged, inside and out, from when it was completed for Commodore Rodgers and his wife. Sion Hill has always been intimately associated with the Rodgers family, and is replete with original Rodgers furnishings.




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