William D. Morgan
Mt. Carmel Monastery
Mt. Carmel Road, La Plata, Charles County
The earliest building now standing at Mt. Carmel is a two-part frame house, known as "The Monastery." The main block, built c. 1790 and restored in 1936-37, consists of a two-story structure with a moderately pitched gable roof. It is three bays in length with the main entrance door of both facade elevations (north and south) occupying the first bay from the west end. At the east end stands a single exterior chimney with a free-standing stack. The exterior doors are of vertical planks, each having a wood stoop with simple railings. First floor window openings frame sash of 9/9 panes while those windows of the second floor frame sash of 6/6 panes. The exterior sheathing is of random-width beaded boards (1936-37) over the brick-nogged structural framing. The base of the east end chimney is now enclosed within a very small one-bay, frame hyphen which connects the main block with a one-story, four-bay frame wing. This portion of the house is said to predate the main block, but if this is true it does so by only a few years. At its principal (north) facade the main entrance door, also of batten design, occupies the third bay from the east corner. The three windows are of 9/9 pane sash. The exterior walls were, like the main block, sheathed with random-width beaded boards at the time of the 1936-37 restoration. The gable roof of this part of the building is also covered with slate shingles. Both parts of the house were restored following their "discovery" in 1933 in a nearly ruinous condition. The entire house, devoid of any extraneous ornamentation, reflects the austerity of the life of the Carmelite nuns who are believed to have used this house as their residence.
The Mt. Carmel Monastery was founded on October 15, 1790, by four Belgium Carmelite nuns, three of them former natives of Charles County. Departing from Belgium in May, 1790, they arrived at nearby Port Tobacco through the assistance of Bishop Carroll and Father Charles Neale, S. J. On arrival they set up a temporary residence at Chandler's Hope, the family home of Father Neale. By October 15, 1790, Father Neale had negotiated for the purchase of the present Mt. Carmel lands and the nuns transferred their residency to that property. The Mt. Carmel property was a part of a tract of land granted in the mid 17th century to Baker Brooke, a politically active figure, loyal to the Calvert family during Fendall's Rebellion of 1659-1660. Brooke's home reputedly stood on the part of the property that became the Monastery that burned, along with several other structures, in the early 19th century (c. 1800-1815). Besides the Monastery building remaining on the Mt. Carmel tract, the Carmelite nuns built several others including another residence, a chapel, and a school, as well as numerous domestic dependencies. The farm became largely self-sufficient through the efforts of these pioneer religious women and the parishioners they helped to serve. However, in the early 19th century a fire destroyed several important buildings and the farm and school became increasingly difficult to maintain. In 1831 the Carmelite nuns then in residence were ordered to transfer the convent to Baltimore City, Maryland, and the Mt. Carmel property in Charles County was abandoned. In 1933 an organization called the Restorers of Mt. Carmel in Maryland, formed to aid in the restoration of the site.