American colonial houses

The mid-Atlantic area of the United States features some of the best examples of early American architecture, with homes that reflect the development of a nation through the growth of families, fortunes and foundations.

One such property is Hampden, located on the banks of La Trappe Creek?a watershed of the Choptank River that leads to the Chesapeake Bay?in Trappe, Maryland.

Legend has it that Hampden?built in about 1663, possibly by a British lord who gave it his name?was the birthplace of the first white child in Talbot County, an area previously only inhabited by Native Americans. Its foundations were built with ballast stones from ships and the original structure was typical of colonial homes: one room deep, with high ceilings and hardwood floors.

The oldest room in the house bears the marks of those early times and still has the original wood beams inset with hook-and-eyes where beds were raised and lowered from the ceiling.

Like so many old homes, Hampden has grown over time. A major extension was carried out in the 1800s, when the panelled living room and its large fireplace?both signs of wealth?were added. Smaller additions were made over many years and now the house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a cloakroom and seven functioning fireplaces (one in almost every room).

Although time may have affected its look, Hampden has barely changed hands over the years. After the original owner, only two families?the Leonards, who are buried in a family cemetery outside the back door, and the Firths?have lived here. The Firths have now been at Hampden for more than 100 years, spanning three generations.

‘The families who lived here were all Quakers so the architecture is very simple, but very beautiful,’ says Alden Firth, the wife of one of the Firth descendants who own the property. ‘There are many ‘McMansions’ on the Eastern Shore, but this is a wonderful, simply elegant original shore house.’

Hampden stands on 72 waterfront acres. Because the land has remained untouched, it has a lovely rolling topography, shaded by hundred-year-old trees. In addition to the main residence, there are two pole barns, one of which is now a guest house, a pool with a pool house, and even an old smokehouse that, despite having been a garden shed for a long time, still has that smoky scent from years past.

Hampden may be the embodiment of colonial living, but Ellenborough, in nearby Easton, Maryland, has architectural literature on its side.

American colonial houses for salePresidential style: buy Ellenborough for £8.34m

Architectural historian Christopher Weeks describes it as ‘a superior composition and a fine, late, academic example of the colonial revival,’ in his book Where Land and Water Intertwine: An Architectural History of Talbot County.

The 54-acre estate, accessed by a magnificent tree-lined drive, was designed by Emory Ross for a Mrs Margaret Chaplin, and built in 1928. Yet the history of the land can be traced back to 1659 when the property?then 1,000 acres?was granted to Richard Tilghman and called Canterbury Manor. In 1860, Matthew Tilghman Goldsborough bought 100 acres from the land grant to build a home that he named after his daughter, Eleanor. Although that house was razed, the name survives.

Today’s Ellenborough is ‘a one of a kind home,’ according to estate agent Cliff Meredith. ‘There aren’t many estates like it on the Eastern Shore.’

This is heavy praise, considering that the Eastern Shore is known for its high-price tag waterfront estates. But Ellenborough is special, the epitome of grandeur. A brick and frame home, it has a pillared portico that opens into a sweeping foyer with 12ft ceilings and a dramatic curved staircase. Most of the 10,000 sq ft of living space?which contains nine bedrooms and seven bathrooms?can be accessed from the main hall. The colonial revival aesthetic is adhered to in detail, from the hardwood floors to the marble fireplaces?although the kitchen is modern.

A modest garden elevation leads to the estate’s exceptional half-mile of waterfrontage on Peachblossom Creek, where there is a new boathouse and the opportunity to dip in the pool, ride out from the barn, or play tennis.

Ellenborough has also seen its share of celebrated guests. It was a fond stop for President Eisenhower, and captured the eye of Hollywood, too, featuring in the 2005 film Wedding Crashers, starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.

The property is for sale at $16.5 million (£8.3m) through Cliff Meredith Lacaze of Meredith Real Estate Co (00 1 410 924 2274; email:

Old-world charm

An easy drive from Ellenborough is the quaint, historic neighbourhood of Georgetown, tucked into the urban embrace of Washington D.C. Here, at 3303 Volta Place, stands a house that makes pedestrians stop and take notice.

‘It’s got that classic, quirky Georgetown element to it?that you don’t know what you are going to get inside from what it looks like on the exterior,’ says owner Mark Green. ‘And when you get inside, it’s absolutely charming.’

The current home was originally three row houses that were brought together in the 1920s, giving it an eccentric charm. The late-18th-century brick façades ramble gently down a hillside and the main entrance was once an alley between two of the houses, which was later enclosed.

The property’s history is as captivating as its architecture. Prior to their conversion, one of the houses was the McCarthy’s Saloon. Another was home to a religious group that left after one of their devotees was murdered. But it was during the Second World War that 3303 Volta welcomed its most distinguished guests. At the time, the house belonged to Jack McCloy, then the Assistant Secretary of War, and his wife Ellen. One night, Generals Marshall and Somervell joined McCloy and shuttered themselves in the library until 4am, drafting the plans for D-Day.

Over the years, the house has been updated but the 200-year-old craftsmanship is still apparent, particularly in the five original fireplace mantels, the original staircase, and the random width pine floors and wainscoting.

Situated close to downtown D.C., 3303 Volta is the only freestanding house adjacent to a large public park. It also has its own private courtyard extending the length of all three houses. According to Mr Green, the house is very serene, despite its urban setting, and has a very British feeling. ‘You really get the sense that it has been here for 200 years,’ he says. ‘It makes you think to yourself: “who stood here?” It gives you goose bumps.’

The property is on the market for $2.5 million (£1.3m) through Michael Rankin of Tutt, Taylor & Rankin, Sotheby’s International Realty (00 1 202 271 3344; email: