HistoryOxon Hill Manor is one of only two early 20th century Classical Revival mansions in Prince George’s County. Built in 1929, Oxon Hill Manor is a large, two story neo-Georgian brick mansion, with a hip roof, flanking wings, and fine decorative detail. It was designed by architect Jules Henri de Sibour for career diplomat Sumner Welles and was built near the site of the original 18th century Oxon Hill Manor, which was destroyed by fire in 1895.
Oxon Hill Manor is of interest for both the present structure and the associations of the estate land with Maryland’s early history.
Essentially unaltered, the present house is expressive of a high level of 1920’s prosperity. It was designed in 1928 for Sumner Welles from a neo-Georgian design by the Washington architect Jules Henri de Sibour (1872-1938). The house successfully captures the essence of a Georgian country estate in the residential scale of the interior spaces and the development of the site with garden vistas and long views beyond the lawns. However, the architectural embellishment is inconsistent when compared to authentic 18th century details. The mansion is typical of stylistically conservative, major American houses of its period.
Historical associations of Oxon Hill Manor fall into three major categories; 1) the Addisons and their role in colonial Maryland, 2) John Hanson’s death and possible burial on the property, and 3) Sumner Welles’ years at Oxon Hill, including possible Roosevelt-Churchill connections with the estate.
John Addison was the brother of the chaplain to John Churchill, first duke of Marlborough, and the uncle of the noted essayist Joseph Addison. John Addison amassed a considerable fortune as a merchant adventurer, and in 1685, as payment for transporting colonists to Maryland, he began acquiring lands from Lord Baltimore near the junction of the Potomac and Eastern Branch and eventually established his home there. Addison’s public duties included those of colonel of the militia, privy councilor to the governor, and foreman of his parish.
Colonel John Addison’s son, Thomas, born in 1669 in St. Mary’s City, became the first surveyor of Prince George’s County at the age of 17. Like his father, he was a merchant and land speculator. He was appointed High Sheriff of the county in 1705, colonel of the militia in 1706, and served as a judge of the High Provincial Court of Maryland after 1712. After spending a year in London, where he visited his literary cousin, Joseph, Thomas returned to Maryland and in the summer of 1710 built a brick mansion on his inherited lands. This original Oxon Hill mansion was built on a hill overlooking the Potomac River near Oxon Creek. An inventory of Addison’s property listed eight other plantations under his supervision , a mill and store, 76 slaves and three indentured English servants. Thomas left over 15,000 acres to his children upon his death in 1727.
Thomas Addison’s eldest son, John, inherited his father’s lands and passed the land encompassing the mansion on to his son, Thomas Addison (c. 1740-1774). A survey of this property, containing 3,663 acres, was made August 3, 1767 as “Oxon Hill Manor” – the first official use of the name.
Upon this Thomas Addison’s death in 1774, Oxon Hill Manor was inherited by his five year old son, Walter Dulany Addison. Thomas Hawkins Hanson, who served under Thomas Addison’s brother, John, during the American Revolution, was appointed regent for the property. He married Addison’s widow in 1778. Thomas Hanson was a nephew of John Hanson, the first president of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
In the Fall of 1783, John Hanson visited his nephew at Oxon Hill Manor. In ill health, he died at Oxon Hill on November 15, 1783. The possibility that he may have been buried at Oxon Hill rather than near his Frederick home is a hotly debated issue among John Hanson scholars.
Nathaniel Washington, a cousin of George Washington, may have leased and occupied Oxon Hill from 1787 to 1792.
The Reverend Walter Dulany Addison, rector of the Broad Creek Church near Oxon Hill, was the founder of St. John’s Church in Georgetown and one of four clergymen officiating at George Washington’s funeral. He was also the last Addison owner of Oxon Hill as he sold the property to Zachariah Berry of Concord in 1810. Berry purchased the property for the use of his son, Thomas, and willed it to him upon his death in 1845.
Thomas Berry’s latter life was unfortunate. He became mentally ill and, in 1876, entered a Baltimore asylum for several months. The management of his property suffered and he became heavily indebted. His sons, Thomas Owen and Norman, petitioned for a writ of de lunatic inquirendo in 1878. Thomas Berry was found mentally incompetent and his lands were ordered sold for payment of his creditors. Berry was admitted to Mount Hope, a mental institution in Baltimore County, and died there around 1879.
A court ordered survey made by William J. Latimer in 1879, divided Thomas Berry’s Oxon Hill property into 49 lots totaling almost 1,430 acres. Only 42 acres were bought at the first auction (by Dr. John W. Bayne) and by 1886, only about 200 acres had been sold. Another auction was held in 1888 and Samuel Taylor Suit purchased the remainder of Oxon Hill Manor.
Samuel Suit’s widow conveyed the property to John C. Heald in 1891, who in turn sold Oxon Hill to Reuben L. Coleman and others in 1892. Coleman acquired certain rights and interests held by other parties and in 1905 sold Oxon Hill to the trustees for the Rock Creek Land Company, Inc. (one of whom was the aforementioned John C. Heald).
During Coleman’s ownership, on February 6, 1895, the original Oxon Hill Manor burned. The Alexandria Gazette gave the following account of the fire; When first discovered, a small spot in the roof only was burning, but it quickly spread, and in 15 or 20 minutes the whole eastern heavens were illuminated by the conflagration – the fire raging furiously, the flames leaping high, while a huge volume of smoke settled over the adjoining hills. Numbers of people in the city went to the streets facing the river to look at the fire, which continued to rage for several hours. The origin of the fire is unknown…Nothing now remains of the former building but the walls and the four chimneys.
The Rock Creek Land Company deeded 775 acres of Oxon Hill to the widow of Reuben Coleman in 1907. The trustees of her heirs sold four parcels of Oxon Hill Manor to Sumner and Mathilde T. Welles in 1927. The Welles’ bought two parts of Lot No.1, all of Lot No. 2, and part of Lot No. 3 of Thomas Berry’s subdivision (as surveyed by Latimer) totaling 245.17 acres more or less and including the mansion site, for $110 an acre.
The house at Oxon Hill Manor today was designed by Jules Henri de Sibour, who was born in France in 1872 and immigrated to the United States at an early age. He graduated from Yale and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. Other local buildings of is design include the Folgers Building and Playhouse on 15th St. NW (1906), 1785 Massachusetts Avenue (1910), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (1931), the Chevy Chase Country Club, the Science Hall at Howard University, and Keith’s Theatre in the Riggs Office Building.
Benjamin Sumner Welles (1892-1961) served as an Assistant Secretary of State, Ambassador to Cuba, and Under Secretary of State in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was instrumental in promulgating the “Good Neighbor” policy towards Latin America, made a significant trip to confer with European heads of government in 1940, and assisted in laying the groundwork for what would become the United Nations organization. Personality and policy differences with Secretary of State Cordell Hull forced his retirement in 1943. Thereafter he wrote on foreign affairs, serving as editor of Harvard’s American Foreign Policy Library from 1949 to 1953.
In 1952, local physician Fred Maloof acquired the estate and established a museum for fine art and John Hanson memorabilia. M-NCPPC purchased the property from the Maloof family in the 1970s.