As I stepped into the kitchen of the Beall-Dawson House, the North Carolina long leaf pine floor boards creaked loudly as if they had a story to tell. The floor board chatter continued as Lorraine, the docent volunteer, guided me through the nearly 200 year old Federal style building in Rockville, MD. The house, one of only a handful of buildings in the city from its era, is beautifully decorated in period pieces and tells the story of Upton Beall and his family through three generations.
Historians conclude that the house was completed in 1815 and therefore flies a flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, the flag adopted after Kentucky and Vermont were admitted to the Union. When the house was completed, Rockville had a permanent population of 200 residents and 38 other buildings. Nearly 200 years later, the city’s population is closing in on 60,000 with thousands of buildings. The Beall-Dawson house still stands as a testament to grace, style, quality and craftsmanship. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Upton Beall, the Clerk of the Court for the growing city of Rockville, and his wife, Jane, had five children. Three of their four daughters all lived to maturity. Their son died at birth. None of the daughters married. With no direct descendants, Margaret, one of the daughters, chose the great-grand children of one of her father’s brothers as her heirs. One of those cousins, Amelia was invited to live with the Beall sisters and subsequently met and married John L. Dawson, a local farmer and landowner. John, Amelia and their eight children continued to reside in the house with the elderly sisters. In due time, the mansion house became known as the Beall-Dawson house.
In 1946, Edwin L. Davis bought the house ending 131 years of continuous ownership by the Beall and Dawson families. Since the sisters and later their cousins had limited incomes, they did little to modernize the house. Though the house had fallen into a state of disrepair, the hardware, mantels, cornices and chair rails were original. Mr. Davis had a great appreciation for the historic property and painstakingly restored it adding insulation central heating, a new kitchen and a modern bathroom.
In his position of Clerk of the Court, Upton Beall possessed a great deal of prestige and was a man of means in county society. His mansion townhouse was a reflection of that status. The wealthy and fashionable Bealls often entertained business associates and friends and Jane Beall entertained the ladies at afternoon tea. During my tour I walked through the formal parlor with the solid crotch mahogany table topped with a wooden tea chest and set with reproduced blue and white porcelain pot and tea cups and saucers for afternoon tea.
The house has three distinctive features worth mentioning. First, it had two public faces. The south face looked out on Commerce Lane which was one of the main roads at the time and is now known as West Montgomery Avenue. The east face looked toward Adams Street and the courthouse.
The house was built with brick, a rarity at the time. The Flemish brick bonding style, also known as Dutch bond, is used on both facades of the house. This style is quite difficult to lay properly and has historically been considered the most decorative bond. The style is created by alternately laying bricks with headers (shorter side) and stretchers (longer side) in a single course or row. The next course is laid so that the header lies in the middle of the stretcher in the course below. Alternatively, the stretcher bond also known as running bond, was used on the kitchen wing and across the back of the house. Running bond, easy to lay and resulting in little waste, is most commonly used in modern time.
The second distinctive architectural feature is the archway which connects the kitchen wing to the dining room in the main block of the house. During that period most archways, which separated the kitchen from the living quarters and were used for fire prevention, were simply a covered walkway. However, the archway of the Beall-Dawson house is two stories high and ties the two sections together. Above the archway is a small bedroom.
The third distinctive feature is the attic window on the east end of the house. The incised sunburst or design is copied and used extensively throughout the house in the chair railing and spindle backs of the pale yellow custom reproduced yellow wooden chairs. This distinctive design has become the logo of the Montgomery County Historical Society.
The 2½ story main block of the house contains five large rooms plus a spacious entrance hall. An original narrow crooked staircase is squeezed into a corner and leads from the breezeway to the room above. Most likely this staircase was used by slaves to access the second floor family quarters since it would have been inappropriate for them to climb the front staircase to attend to their duties.
Access to the two-room slave quarters on the second floor was via a ladder-like stair in the northeast corner of the kitchen. A wall prevented second floor access between the slave quarters and the Beall family quarters. Typical of the period, the Beall family probably had seven or eight house servants. These slaves, along with those at Beallmont farm made Upton Beall one of the largest slaveholders in the county.
The Beall-Dawson town house has few original pieces of furniture but is decorated with furnishings typical of the period. Two exceptions to substitute period pieces include the walnut tall case eight-day clock with a second hand. The clock was commissioned by Upton Beall and identified in the 1827 inventory of the Jane Robb Beall’s estate. With frequent winding, the clock is still a usable timepiece.
One of the other original pieces is the rosewood veneer pianoforte which was purchased from the Cole Music Store in Baltimore. Situated in the parlor, it was purchased circa 1834 for seventeen year old Miss Margaret Beall and often used to entertain guests.
Although the house and surrounding property contained several outbuildings typical of the period such as a dairy house, an ice house, a stable and a carriage house, slave quarters, etc., today the dairy house is the last remaining outbuilding on the property.
As I walked through the rooms used by the family and those used by the slaves, up the front staircase with its black and white faux marble baseboard then down the narrow staircase used by the slaves, the floors continued to creak. The docent volunteer, who was extremely knowledgeable and obviously enjoyed talking about the historic property, did a wonderful job. But oh how I wish I could have understood what those creaking floorboards had to say.
If you go
103 West Montgomery Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850
The Beall-Dawson House is open for public tours on Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 4:00 PM. For group tours, call 301-340-2825 for reservations. The house is also open for Montgomery County School Social Studies field trips. See the below link for Teacher Information for Field Trips.
Admission is $3.00 for adults; $2.00 for seniors and children.
Acknowledgement - Some details for this story were obtained from “A House Through Time” by Maureen Altobello. This booklet is available for sale in the Beall-Dawson House Museum.
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