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History of Early American Landscape Design
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Riversdale

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Riversdale is a plantation established in 1800 near Bladensberg, Maryland. Its federal-style winged mansion, of beige stucco-covered brick with Tuscan columns, was commissioned in 1801 by Antwerp burgher Henri Joseph Stier (1743–1821) and finished by his daughter, Rosalie (1795–1821), and her husband, George Calvert (1768–1838). Rosalie’s letters describe her gardening efforts including sourcing seeds for cultivating plants such as her prized tulips and hyacinths (Callcott, p. 181).

Landscape designer and artist William Russell Birch (1755–1834) was engaged to draw up plans for the plantation. However, Birch never visited the estate nor supervised the work and thought that “‘very little was done’ according to his design” (Cooperman, p. 20). By the end of 1808 the plantation grounds were reported have terraces, a lake, an icehouse, walkways, trees planted in clumps, and slave cabins designed to look like rustic huts (Callcott, p. 180–1).

George’s son Charles Benedict Calvert (1808–1864) co-inherited Riversdale in 1838 and made several additional improvements to the estate, especially in terms of farming methods and implements which were much commented upon in important agricultural publications of the time. Journalist and landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) visited in 1852 and commented favorably on the grounds, including the lake on the south lawn, fountains, and flower gardens in his A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States: With Remarks on their Economy (New York: Dix & Edwards; London: Sampson Low, 1856), 6.

Overview

Alternate Names: Baltimore House, Calvert Mansion, Riversdale Mansion
Site Dates: begun 1801
Site Owner(s): George Calvert
Associated People: Henri Joseph Stier, Rosalie Stier Calvert, George Calvert, Charles Benedict Calvert
Location: Riversdale, Md.
View on Google maps

Images

Texts

  • Anonymous, August 1848, describing Riversdale, estate of George and Rosalie Stier Calvert, Prince George's County, Md. (American Farmer 4:53)[1]
The main building is 68 by about 50 feet, with an elegant Portico on its northern [front], and a Piaza [sic], running its entire length, on its southern front, each constructed with due regard to classic and architectural propriety. . . .On either front is an ample lawn with shade trees, grass plots, parterres, shrubbery, and flowers, whose effect upon the senses impart an interest to the view, warm the mind into admiration, and give assurance, that a chastened taste and artistic skill had presided while these were being fashioned into form. . . . These improvements were made by the present proprietor’s ancestors, in the beginning of the present century, but are still in a state of the most perfect preservation.


  • Warden, David Bailie, 1816, describing Riversdale, estate of George and Rosalie Stier Calvert, Prince George's County, Md. (1816: 156)[2]
The establishment of George Calvert, Esq. at Bladensburg, attracts attention. His mansion, consisting of two stories, seventy feet in length, and thirty-six in breadth, is admirably adapted to the American climate. On each side there is a large portico, which shelters from the sun, rain, or snow.


  • Olmsted, Frederick Law, 1856, describing Riversdale, estate of George and Rosalie Stier Calvert, Prince George's County, Md. (1856: 6) [3]
The kept grounds are very limited, and in simple but quiet taste...There is a fountain, an ornamental dove-coat, and ice-house.

Other Resources

National Park Service Register of Historic Places Documents

Riversdale Historical Society

Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George's County

The University of Maryland Riversdale Book Shelf

Notes

  1. Anonymous, "Visit to Riversdale," The American Farmer and Spirit of the Agricultural Journals of the Day 4, no. 2 (August 1848): 52–55, view on Zotero.
  2. David Bailie Warden, A Chronographical and Statistical Description of the District of Columbia (Paris: Printed and sold by Smith, 1816), view on Zotero.
  3. Frederick Law Olmsted. A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States: With Remarks on Their Economy (New York and London: Dix & Edwards and Sampson Low, Son & co., 1856), view on Zotero.
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