J. Richard Rivoire
Washington Avenue, La Plata, Charles County
The Hermitage is a two-story, three-bay frame dwelling with a dormered gable roof, distinguished by a pair of brick, exterior chimneys at one end and a deep wraparound veranda on Tuscan columns. The principal portion of the house was built about 1847 and its basic form is not much different from when it was built. Originally, the house was clapboarded and the roof wood shingled, finishes that remain preserved beneath later coverings. The paneled entry door, framed by a transom and sidelights, appears to be contemporary with the building's construction, as do the trim and sashes of the first-floor, second-floor, and gable windows. The door is in the west bay of the south facade. Windows of 6/6 sash occupy the other bays on the first and second floors, and in the two large gable-roofed dormer windows on the south slope of the roof. The house is two bays wide, with a 6/6 sash window in the south bay of the west facade, and the north bay covered by an enclosed porch. Two 6/6 windows appear on the second floor, and another two in the attic gable. Windows have louvered shutters. A pair of exterior chimneys rise against the east gable end. Between these on the second floor is a window in the north bay opening onto a balustraded balcony which stretches between the chimneys. A pair of 6/6 windows lights the attic gable between the chimney stacks. Beneath the second-floor balcony is a polygonal bay window. A two-story gable roofed wing is attached to the north, or rear, of the house. The building's original side-passage double-parlor plan--a room arrangement repeated on the second floor and attic levels--remains intact. These spaces retain their original finishes, including plastered walls and ceilings, pine flooring, window and door trim, doors, and baseboards. An open-string stair, rising in two flights to the second floor from the northwest corner of the first-floor hall, is also an original feature. Between 1911 and 1918, extensive improvements were made to the house, including additions to the west and north sides, the veranda, a one-story bay window between the two chimneys, the dormers, and the existing exterior finishes. A pediment breaks the roofline of the hip-roofed veranda in the entrance bay. Outbuildings include a small complex of barns and sheds a short distance north of the house, and a former meat house that is now used for storage. The meat house and at least one of the three barns appear to be contemporary with the house while all of the other buildings date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Hermitage is significant for its association with the development of the town of La Plata, the seat of Charles County. The area was effectively settled in the 1840s by Major George W. Matthews, a farmer and attorney, for whom the house was built c. 1847; through the subdivision of the original 508-acre parcel associated with The Hermitage, beginning in 1870 and continuing through the 1940s, the Matthews family promoted the founding and development of La Plata and the relocation of the seat of Charles County government from Port Tobacco. Extensive improvements were made to The Hermitage between 1911 and 1918 by F. Brooke Matthews, a locally prominent businessman and political figure. The Hermitage also is significant for its architectural character, as a well-preserved example of a traditional building type (the side-passage, double-pile dwelling with paired exterior chimneys) which characterized the domestic architecture of Southern Maryland in the antebellum period; subsequent alterations, reflecting its evolution through the early 20th century, have not significantly affected the integrity of the house. The property gains additional interest through the survival of a variety of secondary structures and the retention of a substantial rural acreage; these elements recall the character of the La Plata area prior to the town's intensive 20th century growth.