County to Buy Ex-Slave Home

Montgomery plans to open this Rockville house and cabin to the public for an
Montgomery plans to open this Rockville house and cabin to the public for an "educational experience," possibly including a museum, a county official says. A committee will decide how the site will be restored. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 5, 2006

Montgomery County has agreed to buy an 18th-century house with an attached log cabin that was once home to a former slave whose autobiography inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin," county officials said.

The Montgomery Planning Board is expected to approve the $1 million contract today for the three-bedroom home and acre on Old Georgetown Road, just south of Tilden Lane in Rockville. A log cabin off the dining room was once a detached "summer kitchen" where Josiah Henson and other slaves lived in the late 1700s and early 1800s as part of a 3,700-acre plantation owned by Isaac Riley.

The purchase "is a very big deal in terms of the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement," said Gwen Wright, acting chief of planning for the Montgomery Department of Park and Planning.

Wright said the county plans to open the house and cabin to the public for an "educational experience," possibly including a museum. She said a committee of county historians, experts in black history and neighborhood residents will help decide its use and how it will be restored.

If the Planning Board approves the deal, the property would go to settlement by the end of the month, said Bill Gries, land acquisition specialist for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Gries said Montgomery County has applied for $1 million in state grants to pay for the property. If the state money doesn't come through, he said, the county could use money allotted for parkland acquisition.

The county signed a contract Dec. 23 to buy the home from the estate of Hildegarde Mallet-Prevost, 100, who died there in September; she and her husband, Marcel, who died in 2000, had owned it since 1962. The family had two other "firm" offers, said real estate agent Pat Haley, a grandson of the Mallet-Prevosts'.

Haley declined to comment on the other two offers, but Gries said, "I was told there was another offer of $1 million, and I had to match it if we wanted to buy it."

For the past 40 or so years, the cabin has served as a small living room, office, occasional bedroom and favorite gathering spot for the Mallet-Prevost family. The dirt floor that Henson wrote about from his slave days has been replaced by creaky pine floorboards, but the same stone fireplace stands at one end of the 13-by-17-foot room.

Greg Mallet-Prevost, 64, and Susanne Haley, 68, said their mother would have liked for the family to have held onto the home. Still, they said, their parents would be happy to know it will be preserved and open to the public.

"She would want nothing more than the county to buy it," Susanne Haley said of her mother. "That would be her dream. She'd want people to enjoy it."

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