While many historic properties represent a single era, Sotterley Plantation spans nearly 300 years of Maryland history. This 100-acre national historic landmark on the scenic banks of the Patuxent River includes a manor house that dates to 1717, a brick customs warehouse built in 1757, an 1830s slave cabin (one of only two remaining in Maryland) and Colonial Revival gardens designed in 1910. Sotterley remained a family residence into the 1960s, and today it is the state's only surviving Tidewater plantation open to the public.
A 45-minute guided tour of the manor house tells the story of the many people who lived at Sotterley, including first owner James Bowles, a farmer, statesman and customs collector; Maryland's sixth governor, George Plater III; dozens of indentured servants and slaves; and two generations of Satterlees, who had ancestral ties to England's Sotterley Hall -- the namesake of the Maryland plantation. The manor house started as a simple two-room home built around cypress tree trunks (called post-in-ground architecture) and ultimately expanded to more than a dozen rooms over two stories. Some of the home's original hardware and stunning hand-carved woodwork remain, such as a 1780-era Chinese Chippendale staircase and two Georgian shell-shaped alcoves, all designed by an indentured servant. The dining room, wallpapered in an intriguing lime-yellow palm tree pattern favored by the final owner, contains Gov. Plater's antique sideboard and punch bowl.
The buildings and grounds provide more details of this plantation, which served as a prosperous farm, a sizable Potomac River port, a busy steamboat landing and a grand escape from urban living over the years. The corn crib, once a holding area for the popular crop, now houses a variety of old agricultural tools. A plot of tobacco serves as a reminder of Sotterley's primary cash crop. A 16-by-18-foot slave cabin that likely housed at least 20 adults and their children hints at the harsh conditions endured by Sotterley's slaves. A brick privy sits in the far corner of gardens bursting with herbs, vegetables and colorful flowers. Trails lead to the scenic waterfront, visible from many parts of the plantation. Future plans call for opening the vista to its sweeping grandeur of bygone days. It's just one of many initiatives the nonprofit foundation that runs Sotterley hopes to achieve in its quest to keep the plantation thriving this century.
Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 to 4 and Sundays noon to 4 through Oct. 31. Guided tours of the manor house offered every hour with the last tour starting at 3. $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 children ages 6 to 16.