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Capitol Heights house ‘considered significant in the Black history of Prince George’s County’

(Photo by Yousef Jahed) Several notable African Americans, including Muhammed Ali, Malcom X, Portia Washington Pittman (the only daughter of Booker T. Washington) and Anwar Sadat (president of Egypt, have visited the home.)
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Painted a bright cherry red, this house perched on a gentle rise in Capitol Heights, Md., would stand out for its eye-catching color alone. But its history is what makes the home truly distinctive.

It was built for a slave owner, but legend has it that it was later part of the Underground Railroad. In the 20th century, it became a hub of the Muslim community in the Washington area.

Susan G. Pearl, who prepared documentation on the home for the Maryland Historic Sites Inventory, wrote: “The Van Horn house would be significant in any case because of its architecture and the prominence of its builder. But, because it has been the frequent visiting place in the last 40 years of many prominent Blacks, and because it is outstanding architecturally in a predominantly Black community today, it can be considered significant in the Black history of Prince George’s County.”

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Archibald Van Horn built the house in 1803 on the 40 acres inherited by his wife, Alethea, from her grandfather Joshua Beall. Van Horn was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1801 to 1805, serving as speaker his final year. He served two terms as a U.S. Congressman, becoming chairman of the committee on the District of Columbia.

After Van Horn and his wife died, their son-in-law, Walter T.G. Beall, purchased the home. Beall’s heirs later sold the plantation to James H. Fowler. A tunnel underneath the home has led many to suggest that it once was part of the secret network used by slaves to escape to northern states and Canada.

In 1940, Benjamin and Clara Mitchell became the owners. The Mitchells were drawn to the area because it was a “flourishing African American neighborhood,” according to “African American Historic Resources of Prince George’s County, Maryland,” a document prepared by the National Park Service.

Benjamin Mitchell was born in Arkansas. He graduated from Tuskegee University, where he trained as a carpenter. After marrying Clara Bryant in 1930, he moved to Washington, where he met Elijah Muhammed, the founder of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad lived off and on with the Mitchells during his time in Washington.

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Benjamin Mitchell, who worked as a carpenter during the day at the Washington Navy Yard, used his carpentry skills to refurbish the house. Because of their ties to Muhammad, the Mitchells invited to their home several notable African Americans, including Muhammed Ali, Malcom X, Portia Washington Pittman (the only daughter of Booker T. Washington) and Anwar Sadat (president of Egypt). The National Park Service document noted the house “illustrates the Mitchells’ wide-ranging influence.”

The late Prince George’s county executive Wayne K. Curry often visited the home as a child.

“The house was always full of intellectual discourse,” he told The Post in 2006. “It was also full of memorabilia of their travels and work. It was a living museum to their lives as important standard bearers for African American progress.”

After Clara Mitchell’s death, the house was sold to Chuck and Priscilla Ugoji in 2005. Allah Bahich purchased it in 2011. Her uncle, Yousef Jahed, said the family came to the United States from Afghanistan in 1983. They did not know its history when Bahich bought it, but as Muslims, felt a deep connection once they learned of it.

“We have to preserve this historic property for future generations,” Jahed said.

The eight-bedroom, three-bathroom, 4,000-square-foot house on 0.37 acre is listed at $499,000.