Delighting in the historical details
“I don’t want to bore you with the details.”
It’s hard not to reach out a comforting hand any time I hear this. Stories are everything. They can’t be boring — not if you’re listening closely and asking the right questions. I bathe in details, swim in details — seek them out like prized shells on a long stretch of beach. And if they’re historical? Well. Growing up just south of the nation’s capital, my parents liked exploring “learning opportunities” on weekends. Museums, historic neighborhoods, exhibits: nothing was off-limits. My dad has since become a tour guide in Washington, D.C., if that gives you an idea of what we’re working with here. Mom and Dad? Knowledge buffs.
As kids, of course, my sister and I found it all hopelessly boring. But as an adult? Southern Maryland is a treasure trove. We just need to make the effort to dive in.
Like many great educational love affairs, my passion for history was eventually ignited by a great teacher. As a freshman at the College of Southern Maryland, Dr. Christine Arnold-Lourie made colonial America come alive. While I’d listened to stories of history’s heroes and foes before, I recalled little and studied even less. My college class was a prerequisite, and I went in with few expectations.
With her lively lectures, Dr. Arnold-Lourie opened up a portal to the past like I had never experienced it before. Her enthusiasm and knowledge were contagious, and I found myself independently researching topics I’d never even heard of until then. Where had this version of history been hiding? I took a second class in the spring. I was hooked.
Though we live in a relatively new country, we still have centuries’ worth of amazing stories close to home. I never tire of finding off-the-grid nooks, buildings and parks to see — even if they lack modern air-conditioning, a non-negotiable in sticky Southern Maryland. By the time I transferred to the University of Maryland, I’d chosen to minor in American history. Genealogy, cultures, identity, division of wealth and power: so much is wrapped up in our collective story. One we’re all still writing.
Mount Aventine within Chapman State Park was my detour on a recent sunny Friday. If you haven’t been to the park, a beautiful and secluded retreat along the Potomac in Indian Head, consider it your moral duty to take a guided tour on a Sunday afternoon. Anyone who has admired Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic Virginia home, will find much to love right in Charles County (sans the crowds).
Friends of Chapman State Park, the volunteer organization caring for the property, have worked extensively with the state to restore Mount Aventine and make it accessible for all to enjoy. Hearing active Friends members Linda Dyson and Nancy Megas discuss the home and their hopes for its future was inspiring.
And if you think the mansion is stunning? Well, walk around back.
Megas described the view as “the most magnificent view of the Potomac River in all of Charles County” — and she wasn’t overselling it. Stepping onto the porch with the water sparkling on the horizon, it’s easy to see why so many have fallen in love with Mount Aventine and others have worked so hard to protect it.
In our fast-paced world, appreciating the past still matters. Long-ago residents of our hometowns shaped them into what we know today. It’s fun to picture the Chapman children sliding down the original wood bannisters or the Countess Margit Bessenyey — the last private owner of Mount Aventine — strutting in her stunning beaded dresses. They were a part of its story, and so are we.
Being in these places, walking where so many others have walked . . . well, it’s not the same as researching it on Wikipedia or peering at old books. It makes an impact. It fills you with awe.
I feel that appreciation at Sotterley Plantation, too. At Thomas Stone National Historic Site, Jefferson Patterson Park and Point Lookout. At Cove Point Lighthouse and Smallwood State Park. It’s reverence. Thank you to the many volunteers who dedicate their time and energy toward keeping the lights on at our local treasures. Most are “paid” only in appreciation — and your passion does not go unnoticed. We’re grateful for your capable hands!
(And, of course, for air-conditioning.)