When D.C. lawyer Carroll Savage decided to sell his beloved historic house in Old Town in 1978 and move to Prince George's County, most of his friends and colleagues were taken aback.
"Back then, no one knew anything about Prince George's County," Savage said. "Everyone assumed that if I was moving, it would be to Bethesda, or somewhere north or west. It never occurred to anyone I'd be moving south."
The draw was Piscataway House, a 250-year-old ivy-covered cottage nine miles south of the U.S. Capitol in the historic village of Broad Creek.
"I like old houses," said Savage, who was living in his fourth historic home in Old Town when a friend put Piscataway House, and the nine acres it is set on, up for sale for $310,000. "There is nothing like this in Montgomery County. And even if there were, you'd have to pay 10 times as much and you'd be way the heck out in Potomac."
Broad Creek is a mile-long enclave within Fort Washington, tucked between what is now Indian Head Highway and the Potomac River. The community, founded as a tobacco port decades before Alexandria and Georgetown, was given over to farming by the mid-1750s after its navigable channel to the Potomac filled with silt.
Today Piscataway House is one of about 25 homes in the Broad Creek Historic District, but it is not just any old house. With its steeply pitched roof and massive free-standing chimneys, local historians consider it a prime example of early colonial architecture. Prince George's County has given it a historic designation as one of the few relics of one of the area's oldest settlements.
The fact that the house wasn't always set in Broad Creek adds to its intrigue. The 11/2 story dwelling was built in the town of Piscataway, four miles south, but to save it from demolition during a road-widening project in 1932 it was disassembled and moved to Broad Creek. "Every piece was numbered and identified," Savage said. "Then they put it on a barge and brought it right up here. They dug a foundation for the basement and put it together the way it was."
During the Eisenhower administration, Piscataway House was owned by Gen. George Brown, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to local legend, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife flew by helicopter from the White House into Broad Creek to visit, landing in the field where Carroll Savage and his wife, Jane, now graze horses.
Another legend says the house is haunted by ghosts of Native Americans, believed to have hunted and fished in the area for about 8,000 years before the arrival of European settlers.
Savage said he enjoyed the urban lifestyle in Old Town, particularly the convenience of handling most of his errands on foot, but he was lured to Broad Creek because it was mostly undeveloped.
That hasn't changed much in the past two decades. Since 1985, the community has been protected by a historic preservation covenant that limits what residents can do with their property. It specifically bars them from chopping existing lots into smaller parcels to make way for new housing.
Most of the homes within Broad Creek are set on one or two acres, but Savage's property is large, even by Broad Creek standards. And it seems even bigger since it is surrounded on three sides by public land, including a wildlife refuge that runs the length of Broad Creek.
Savage allows neighbors to cross through his property to reach the refuge. "It makes a wonderful walk," said Rick Scott, who lives near Savage on property his grandfather bought in the 1930s. "In the evening the fields fill with wild turkeys and you may even see a fox. It's like being part of 'Wild Kingdom.' "
Besides Piscataway House, the Broad Creek historic district includes two sites on the Interior Department's National Register of Historic Places: St. John's Church, the first Episcopal parish in the Washington area, established in 1692; and Harmony Hall, a large, Georgian-style plantation house built in the mid-1700s. The historic district includes the ruins of Want Water, another colonial house. Archeologists also uncovered some of the oldest Indian relics on the East Coast.
Despite the protections that coming with listing as a historic district, several Broad Creek residents said they are increasingly concerned about the impact of ongoing construction in neighboring communities like Tantallon and farther south in Charles County.
Helen O'Leary, 87, who has been living in a white stucco house on two acres in Broad Creek since 1950, said she is battling county officials over a proposal to build a shopping center behind her house on the historic district's northern edge.
"You see how ugly that is up there on Livingston Road?" she said, pointing to an aging, lack-luster commercial strip a half mile from her house. "This will be even uglier."
O'Leary, who has difficulty walking, occasionally drives her car to Upper Marlboro to argue the case for limited development on land bordering Broad Creek.
"We did our best to see that the new master plan [for Prince George's County] did not encroach on the historic district," she said. "But there are no tools" for reining in development on adjacent lands. Traffic through Broad Creek on Livingston Road, she said, "already has gotten so bad we can hardly get out of our driveways."
David Turner, a speechwriter for the U.S. Marshals Service who moved to Broad Creek in 1993, said he feels lucky to have bought one of the last undeveloped parcels in the historic district. Before building, he worked with county officials to come up with a design that would blend in. Ultimately he built a two-story farmhouse with a large front porch and a horse barn modeled after an old tobacco shed.
Now that he is chairman of the Prince George's Historic Preservation Commission, he frequently is under pressure from builders who have their own ideas of how rural land in the county should be used. In part because of its proximity to the District, they are particularly eager to build around Broad Creek.
"They come and they say, 'Oh wouldn't you like to have a nice Whole Foods here?'," he said. So far the answer consistently has been, "No."
It's not that he's anti-growth, he said. Rather, it is unbridled growth that concerns him.
"It's very difficult to ask developers to save ancient Indian archeological fields or African American slave cemeteries when these lots could be turned into housing developments," he said.
"I like old houses," says Carroll Savage, shown with his wife, Jane, on the steps of Piscataway House, a 250-year-old colonial cottage in the historic village of Broad Creek in Prince George's County.David Turner, a resident of Broad Creek since 1993, boards horses in a barn that he designed to look like an old tobacco shed. He stands with his partner, Randy Crawford, and the horse Blaze.
Harmony Hall, a large, Georgian-style plantation house, was built in the mid-1700s.