The Washington Post
Heirloom farm occupies a niche in Md. history
Richland Farm, a 133-acre property between Clarksville and Glenelg in west-central Howard County, has remained in the same extended family for 300 years. It is on the market for $4 million.
Thomas Worthington received a title to 1,200 acres from Lord Baltimore in 1722. Worthington died in 1753, and his daughter Ariana inherited 363 acres. She and her husband, Nicolas Watkins, farmed the land. Following Ariana’s death, her son Gassaway Watkins took over the farm.
After serving in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, Gassaway Watkins returned to the farm and built a log cabin circa 1781. He built another house, Walnut Grove, in 1785 and lived there with his wife while continuing to farm at Richland Farm, using enslaved labor.
Gassaway’s son William, who would become a Maryland delegate, a state senator and clerk of the circuit court, expanded the house. In addition to growing crops, William raised hogs on the farm.
Following William’s death, the farm went to his son-in-law Joshua W. Dorsey in 1880. Dorsey owned a farm implement and hardware business in Ellicott City. His daughter Achsah Dorsey Serpell took possession of the farm after his death. She hired prominent Baltimore architect Bayard Turnbull to renovate and enlarge the house in 1919.
Richland Farm was primarily a summer house for the family for much of the 20th century with the farming handled by a superintendent. Melanie Dorsey, who inherited the farm from her uncle in 2005, remembers her father speaking fondly of summers spent on the farm.
The six-bedroom, five-bathroom, 6,700-square-foot house had been rented out for several years before Dorsey took possession. She hired builder Ken Mauck to restore it to its former glory.
“Oh my gosh, what a gifted man he is,” Dorsey said. “It was a very intimidating project.”
Before they could start, the house had to be cleared out. Hundreds of years of furniture and castoffs had accumulated. The attic held 300 chairs, Dorsey said.
“We kept thinking, we’re going to find something, the treasure,” she said. But the only noteworthy item they found was a chamber pot.
“That we managed to find, but that was not a treasure,” Dorsey said.
While renovating the house, authenticity was important. Amish builders from Pennsylvania were brought in to make the horsehair plaster for the walls. Reclaimed wood and period-appropriate fixtures were used.
“They went to a lot of trouble to try to get things as original as they could,” Dorsey said.
Like much of her family, Dorsey did not live at the farm. Her job required her to be close to Washington. But she did enjoy spending weekends, holidays and special occasions there.
“For Thanksgiving, instead of going away, we go to the farm,” she said. “I wanted it to be my house for when I wanted it to be my house.”
The dining room, part of the original log cabin, proved to be not only a wonderful setting for Easter dinner but also a good place for an Easter egg hunt, Dorsey said.
The house is not the only structure on the farm that contributes to its historical designation. According to the document filed with the National Register of Historic Places, “Richland Farm has one of the most extensive collections of farm outbuildings that survive in Howard County.” The property includes a smokehouse, bank barn, stable, corn crib and two-story staff quarters. The fields remain under cultivation, growing winter wheat, feed corn and soybeans. A small stream runs through the property.
Dorsey particularly liked that she was out in the country but still minutes away from a grocery store and a coffee shop.
“When I open the gate and go in — this sounds corny — but it’s like a different world,” Dorsey said. “It’s like a nature center almost.”