Thanks to the tireless restoration overseen by Ann and Bill Minogue, the exquisite estate known as Almodington stands today as a historic treasure of Somerset County
As you head down the sandy .8-mile drive in Oriole, Md., you’d almost swear you could feel the years of modernity yield to the echoes of a time gone by. Though seemingly unfamiliar, you are comforted by the faint scent of salted air carried by breezes from the Manokin River. Around the bend, the cause of your enticement becomes unmistakably clear:
It is the historic 203-acre estate called Almodington.
Built in 1745 and diligently restored by current owners William and Ann Minogue, Almodington represents one of the most elaborate plantation houses erected in Somerset County during the mid-18th century. Its four red-brick, Flemish-bond walls exhibit the finest in craftsmanship with a carefully executed glazed-header checkerboard pattern on the south side and gauged-brick arches over the first- and second-floor windows. The window and door openings on the north side are topped by a unique arch design of alternating glazed rowlocks and unglazed soldier bricks. The cove cornices, which finish the front and back eaves, exist on less than a handful of area houses.
The home’s interior, meanwhile, is a tribute to the very best carpentry available at the time of original — and contemporary — construction. Breaching the front door of Almodington leads to a spacious center passage. A dogleg stair is embellished with turned balusters, a decorated stringer and a molded handrail that terminates at its base in a spiral.
Located to the west of the entranceway passage is the most formal room — known as the parlor — which was originally fitted with the most extravagant Georgian paneling known in any Somerset County dwelling. The mid-18th-century woodwork was so highly prized, in fact, that in 1919 the original floor-to-ceiling paneling was removed and dispatched to the American wing of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it remained for nearly a century, representing the quintessential Georgian manor house. While those planks currently reside at the Somerset Heritage Center in Princess Anne, the Almodington parlor still bears the exquisite shell-carved cupboards that flank the fluted pilasters on either side of the fully functional raised-panel hearth (one of eight in the home). Topped off with Kentucky chestnut wainscoting, authentic pine flooring and stirring 16-over-12 windows, it’s no wonder this incomparable space had been named one of the “100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America” by Viking Press.
Significant demonstrations of mid-18th-century finishes flourish throughout this part of the house, especially in the first floor’s east room. Classic federal-style influences were added in the late-18th or early-19th centuries and are embedded in features that include wood-carved keystones and dentil moldings and trim.
It is believed that the original 1,000-acre tract upon which Almodington would come to sit was granted to John Elzey by the king himself. Elzey was a British loyalist empowered to administer to new settlers the oath of allegiance to the British crown.
Circa 1790, a two-story ell was added to the original structure that included the kitchen wing, along with a colonnade between the house and the detached kitchen. In 1938, a hyphen was added that adjoins the main structure and the kitchen wing. The synergistic result is a sprawling manor that embraces the nation’s grandest domestic traditions. No wonder, then, that in 1976 Almodington was officially added to the National Register of Historic Homes — which not only guaranteed that the estate would survive but that it would be faithfully and accurately restored, as well.
Though that process had begun under the guidance of the owner prior to the Minogues, a devastating fire in 1992 left Almodington little more than a shell, with no ceiling, roof or floor.
Enter Michael Trostel and Peter Pearre, the architects responsible for resurrecting Almodington.
“The work of these architects was beyond brilliant,” Ann praised of the elite Baltimore firm whose work won the 2002 Preservation Award by the Maryland Historical Trust. “They were able to sift through the ash and rubble and recreate, inch by inch, piece by piece, the precise appearance and stature of this historic estate. It’s difficult to imagine Almodington being what it is today without them.”
Trostel had stated that a proper restoration is one that you can’t tell was ever done, and that philosophy is certainly evident in the case of Almodington. On the upper level, fortresslike walls are almost one-and-a-half-feet thick over their natural pine floors. Further witness is borne by the heavy pine doors, which are reinforced by thick metal brackets that are secured by studded rawhide, as was the tradition.
Closeted away within Almondington is a state-of-the-art geothermal heating and ventilation system, supported by a dozen wells scattered throughout the property. Five full baths and one half-bath supplement the home’s modern amenities.
On the subject of the 1938 constructions, the Williamsburg-style hyphen takes you to Ann’s office, which is presented in the same vein and features hard-carved valences, while stamped-brass valences evoking themes of the 19th
century await in another of the manor’s four bedrooms.
With its limestone-topped center island and GE stainless-steel gourmet stove, the kitchen is definitely amateur-chef Bill Minogue’s favorite room in the house. The enormous working space and ultra-modern features form the perfect culinary arena for this recently retired physician.
Bill and Ann stated that credit for all of the home’s exemplary interior craftsmanship belongs to the father-sons master-carpenter trio of Larry, Mark and Shawn Widgeon, who spent more than seven years completing the restoration.
The screened-in porch off the kitchen offers spectacular views of the river and of the fully functional pier that grants access to it. But the best view comes from the replica of the “Almodington bench” that Ann commissioned in replacement of the original, which currently presides in Winston-Salem’s Museum of Early Southern Decorative Art as the oldest surviving piece of outdoor garden furniture in the U.S. Other interesting exterior features include brick mortar that is reinforced by ground-up seashells and stone steps that lead to the front landside door (because the home’s true frontage is actually riverside), which, some historians hold, originally came from a church perched right on the grounds of the estate.
This magnificent property may be viewed by appointment with listing agent Carolina Barksdale of Benson & Mangold Real Estate in St. Michael’s. Interested parties should call the office at 410-745-0417 or Carolina directly at 443-786-0348.
Certain historical, architectural and structural information about Almodington was provided by Jim DeVage of Appraisal Services, Inc., in Salisbury.
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