Gabriel Duvall's name probably isn't fresh on many people's minds unless they're affiliated with DuVal High School. And in all likelihood, most of those people have not traveled the four miles on Route 193 from the Lanham school to Glenn Dale's Marietta House Museum to find out about the DuVal namesake.
Even museum director Susan Wolfe didn't know about the house or its former inhabitants when she started working there in 1991. She hopes the museum's latest exhibit, which commemorates the 250th anniversary of the birth of original occupant Gabriel Duvall, gets others as excited as she has become about the Duvalls. At the very least, guided tours will explain why DuVal High School is not spelled "Duvall." It is speculated that Duvall's son, Edmund, changed the name's spelling in the early 19th century to reflect its earlier French rendition.
"This family was extraordinary. And the house is like a hidden little treasure. We try to make it more like a home than a museum," Wolfe said.
In some of the rooms, it's okay for visitors to sit on replica 19th-century chairs or touch items. However, the museum has replaced some of its replica items with the real things for this exhibit. That means that until the exhibit's closing in March, some of the finery is off limits, including 19th-century imported porcelain dining sets and silver.
After the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission designated the house a museum in 1988, research and renovation kept it closed for much of the time until 1996, when the county celebrated its tricentennial. Today, the house also serves as the headquarters of the Prince George's County Historical Society.
Wolfe and other county employees have been working on making the house "spiffy and furnished," as she put it, for its current exhibit, which displays replicas, artifacts and documents that help tell the story of the former associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and his family.
Duvall had the original red brick, two-story house built when he was serving on the Supreme Court in the early 1800s and added on to it when he became the guardian of three of his grandchildren. The basement, which had been used as museum storage, is renovated for the exhibit, which includes time lines, artifacts and glass-encased personal items such as wedding gifts, jewelry and a pair of stockings worn by three generations. The downstairs also holds clues to Duvall's land acquisitions in the county as well as the plantation life of Marietta House, with the text of newspaper ads announcing runaway slaves or searching for an overseer in 1818 who could "manage a farm of 700 acres and twenty slaves."
The rest of the exhibit mentions little about plantation operations, focusing rather on Duvall's political career and possessions of his descendants. His role in the Revolutionary War and as a Maryland House delegate, congressman and comptroller of the U.S. Treasury is explained through a variety of items placed throughout the Federal-style house and in the adjacent unheated building that served as Duvall's law office.
Wolfe culled the exhibit pieces from a variety of sources, such as the Society of the Descendants of Maureen Duvall, the U.S. Supreme Court Curator's Office, the National Archives and the Historic Annapolis Foundation. She discovered items, such as an oil portrait of Duvall's son, that the museum had no record of. Some exhibit pieces are on loan, some are part of the mansion's permanent exhibit, and many of the portraits and documents are re-creations of originals. Items on display include a chair given to Duvall by Thomas Jefferson, a lock of Duvall's white hair, monogrammed silver, pieces of Gabriel Duvall's wedding vest, a family prayer book containing family members' signatures and an original watercolor of Marietta House in the 1880s.
"The exciting part of this exhibit is finding out more information. When we started, of course we thought we knew a lot. But you just keep finding stuff all the time," Wolfe said.
"Gabriel Duvall 250th Anniversary Exhibit" runs through March at the Marietta House Museum, 5626 Bell Station Rd., Glenn Dale. Walk-in tours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Group tours can be arranged. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and groups, $1 for children 5 to 18 and free for those 4 and younger. Call 301-464-5291.