PERRYVILLE — St. Mark’s Church Road is not one of the roads oft traveled in Cecil County, yet it contains a lovely historic home, known as Brookland, that is one of the more intriguing properties in the county.
The impressive structure was built not far from today’s modern roadway, on land that had been originally granted to George Gale from Lord Baltimore in 1732. Soon thereafter, the original log portion was erected, about 1735, where adze marks are still to be seen on the hand hewn timbers and original strap and “HL” hinges are preserved on doors and windows.
The original structure was enlarged without demolition of the charming original details in the late 1700s, when a large fieldstone section of 16-to-18-inch-thick walls was built. This west wing with all stone lintels features a two-story center hall with a flying stairway, designed later in 1876, with treads of solid oak. A fireplace back plate in the fieldstone portion of the home is dated indicating it was forged in 1771, while the mantel above it was painted black, not in a nod to recent style, but all the way back in 1799 as a sign of mourning upon the death of George Washington.
Throughout Brookland are still found touches of a bygone era that have been lovingly retained and preserved from a stone open fireplace in the original kitchen, old wavy glass, a fireplace crane, and iron strips made from old Conestoga wagon wheels to support bricks. The colonial refrigerator in the form of a cooling room for vegetable storage was retained as was the Dutch door, which once led the very essential well, though the windmill that once graced it bowed to modern progress.
Despite these elements of colonial grace that are often only found in such places at Williamsburg, where they may or may not be original, Brookland has undergone improvements as it retains its architecturally significant elements with each passing generation. Historians from the Maryland Historic Trust often describe the structure as a “three century home,” as each of the homes three sections was built in a different century — the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s.
Even if succeeding generations of owners had not been such wonderful stewards of the property, however, Brookland’s historic significance to Cecil County, and indeed Maryland as a whole, would be worthy of exceptional note, simply by dint of the first owner of the property — George Gale. Though his name may not resonate with armchair historians the way Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s names do, he was nonetheless the first delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland. That he was a friend to George Washington is evident in Washington’s Mount Vernon Diary as well.
From the Gale family other names of note possessed Brookland, including the Chamberlaine family, Whittingham and Whittingham Dean family, and Connors. Edythe Whittingham Dean (1896-2000) sold the property to the Connors before moving with her husband, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Frank Homewood Dean (1893-1971), to Washington, D.C. Edythe was the daughter of noted architect Richard Whittingham, whose work can be seen on the campus of the University of Delaware with many structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was under Richard Whittingham’s careful eye that Brookland’s main wing was rebuilt when it burned in 1938.
The neighbor to this 14-room home is St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where the cemetery was once the private burial ground of the Gale family, as well as the subsequent Chamberlaine and Whittingham families. When St. Mark’s was erected as a “chapel-of-ease” to St. Mary Anne’s in North East, ground was given to the church to serve as a churchyard. St. Mark’s was consecrated in 1845 and the next year, in 1846 the Rev. Richard Whittingham, Jr., was chosen as deacon. He, of course, was the father, of architect Richard Whittingham.