Friday, May 29, 2009

The Market Master's House and Square: An Introductory History

Here is a little background information about the Market Master's House. We will start the excavation on Monday. A bit of interesting historical research about the house has come in, which we will share with you in the coming weeks.

The Market Master’s House, also known as the "Ship Ballast House", is situated adjacent to Annapolis Road and Kenilworth Avenue. It is located just to the east of the Magruder house. The building, associated with the earliest period of the town’s development, serves as an important surviving example of eighteenth-century vernacular architecture. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In October of 1742, the Maryland legislature voted to create the town of Bladensburg on the east side of the Anacostia River. As they had done for several of Maryland’s other incorporated towns, lawmakers required a certain amount of investment on the part of those who wished to settle one of the 60 town lots laid out there. New property owners, called “Takers-up” in the bill, were required “within Eighteen Months after taking up … [to] build and finish…one good, substantial, and tenantable House with one Brick or Stone Chimney thereto, that shall cover 400 square Ft of Ground” (Archives of Maryland 2006: 451-452). Takers-up who failed to build in the allotted time would lose their stake and the lot could be resold with proceeds going to the town commissioners.

In 1746, the town commissioners created a geographic anchor for the town by designating lot 37, located a few blocks from the public landing, as a market square. By the revolutionary period, the village was an important port and home to 35 households, including several taverns (e.g. George Washington House/Indian Queen Tavern), merchants (e.g. Market Master’s House), doctors (e.g. Magruder House), and artisans. A tobacco warehouse stood on the market square by the 1780s. While no above-ground remnants of the market square or the nearby market lanes remain, the small house on lot 38, today called the Market Master’s House, remains intact and is listed, with the small parcel of land on which it sits, on the National Register of Historic Places. The building - a stone house with a 500 square-foot footprint and a substantial chimney is representative of the minimum effort specified by the town’s enactment law for takers-up to retain the property.

Here is a resurvey map from 1787 showing the Market Master's Square (shaded lot 37). The Magruder House is located in lot 27, to the west. The lot in between is currently occupied by Kenilworth Avenue:

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