Category Archives: Hammond

The Other Hammond House

By Educational Program Coordinator Tara Owens

Occasionally, the Hammond-Harwood House becomes confused with another Hammond house in Maryland, the Benson-Hammond House. It is easy to see why this happens, as both have hyphenated names containing the surname Hammond. However, these are two distinct houses in different locations that happen to be linked together by a name.

The Hammond-Harwood House was constructed for Matthias Hammond (1748-1786), a wealthy landowner who owned several tobacco plantations and served in the Maryland legislature. In 1774, Matthias hired joiner and architect William Buckland to erect an Anglo-Palladian brick mansion in downtown Annapolis. Buckland embraced classical design elements reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome, which can be seen in details throughout the house. The pediment with its denticular molding and the front door encased with Ionic columns harken back to the great buildings of that classical era. The House consists of a five-part main block with wings on either side connected by hyphens, and its design has remained unaltered since its original construction. The Hammond-Harwood House was designed to be a place that made left an impression, a place that symbolized the wealth and status of its owner.

The Benson-Hammond House in Linthicum, Maryland

The Benson-Hammond House in Linthicum, Maryland

The Benson-Hammond House, on the other hand, is a simpler home. Located in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, not far from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, it is a 19th-century farmhouse. Between 1809 and 1815 Thomas Benson acquired three tracts of land and, according to family tradition, constructed a log cabin. Eventually, circa 1820 or 1830, the Bensons built a two-story brick farmhouse. Sometime after the Civil War, the house was lengthened and a half-story was added. This addition was done in the architectural style known as Greek Revival. By 1854, Thomas had conveyed ownership of the house and land to his son Joseph. Joseph died in 1882 and indicated in his will that the house should be sold. In 1887, John T. and Rezin H. Hammond purchased the house for $13,600.

So, how exactly is Matthias Hammond connected to John T. and Rezin H. Hammond? Well, that is a great question, and one that took some digging into genealogical records to answer. Bear with me as I try my best to connect the dots with as little confusion as possible. Rezin Howard Hammond is Matthias Hammond’s great-great-great nephew. Matthias had a brother named Rezin, who had a son named Andrew, who had a son named Rezin, who had a son named John Thomas, who is the father of Rezin Howard Hammond and the “John T.” referred to in the previous paragraph. So, the two Hammond houses are connected, but not as directly as confused visitors often think.

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Hammond-Harwood Myths

One of the stories surrounding the building of the Hammond-Harwood House in 1774 suggests that its original owner, Matthias Hammond, wanted such a large house because he was engaged to be married. But, the story has it, he spent too much time thinking about the design of his house and not enough wooing his fiancée, so she called off the wedding and ran away with another man.

Until yesterday, I was mystified as to the origins of this story. Matthias Hammond never married and there is no documentary evidence to suggest that he was ever engaged. Thanks to two sources I happened to be consulting for other reasons, I now know the answer! Annapolis historian Jean Russo wrote a monograph about Hammond in 1992, and in it says that “there does exist correspondence describing a similar episode in the life of a different member of the family” and that “the incongruity of a bachelor building such a large and elegant home led to the attachment of the story of the broken Hammond engagement to Mathias Hammond as a way of explaining that incongruity.”

The book John Shaw: Cabinetmaker of Annapolis provides the name of the Hammond family member who was actually jilted, and manages to bust another Hammond-Harwood House myth at the same time. That myth is that James Nourse rented Hammond-Harwood House for a time in the 18th century.  Actually, Nourse rented Acton, the home belonging to Philip Hammond. So, when he wrote in his diary that Hammond’s fiancée ran away with another man while Hammond was buying furniture in Philadelphia, he was talking about Philip, NOT Matthias.

I don’t know if it’s possible to counteract two hundred years of Annapolis gossip, but I’m sure Matthias Hammond would feel better knowing that the truth is out there!

Sources:

Jean Russo, “Mathias Hammond: 1748-1786.” The Hammond-Harwood House Association, 1992.

William Voss Elder III and Lu Bartlett, John Shaw Cabinetmaker of Annapolis. Baltimore: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1983.

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