Explore 8000 Years of History at the Mount Calvert Historical and Archeological Park

Mansion at Mount Calvert Historic & Archeological Park

Mount Calvert, in Upper Marlboro MD, is an exceptionally beautiful place. At the end of a three mile narrow road, a mansion sits on a bluff high above the Patuxent River marsh, at the confluence of the Patuxent River and its largest tributary, Western Branch. Although this is the site of the first town in Prince Georges County, MD, now just a mansion, a barn and archeological sites remain.

The area is filled with history. In fact, this former plantation occupies one of the most significant historical and archaeological sites in Prince George’s County MD. Its rich archaeological and historical resources represent more than 8,000 years of human history, spanning multiple cultures.

It is an archaeological park that focuses on the intersection of three main cultures: the indigenous Mataponi, Patuxon, and later the Piscataway tribes; the British colonizers; and the African American slaves who worked the tobacco fields.

Archaeological evidence reveals that American Indians lived in the area from the Archaic Period (7500-1000 BC) through the Woodland Period (1000 BC to 1600 AD), exploiting the Patuxent River’s resources and establishing villages along its banks.

In 1658 Phillip Calvert was granted Mount Calvert, a 1,000-acre property on the site, although he never lived there. As plantations in the area flourished, a colonial town, initially named Mount Calvert, was established in 1684. It became the county seat in 1696 and was renamed Charles Town, but eventually disappeared after the seat moved to Upper Marlboro in 1721. Through the Civil War, the site functioned as a tobacco plantation relying on enslaved labor.

The mansion on the property now serves as a museum and houses an exhibit called “A Confluence of Three Cultures.” The museum features artifacts from all the cultures that once inhabited the area. The park also offers visitors the unique experience of observing archaeologists actively excavating.

The Historical Markers and 8 Facts We Learned From Them

There are 10 or so historical markers around the grounds. Through these, we learned some really interesting facts about the history of the parkland.

  • Since Mount Calvert became a public park in 1996, archeologists have uncovered thousands of artifacts.
  • The park forms part of the Jug Bay Archeological Complex, which includes at least 75 archeological sites spanning 13 thousand years of human history. The JBAC includes ancient indigenous villages, 18th century towns, 19th century tobacco farms, shipwrecks and an abandoned 20th century railroad.
  • Although the brick house is the only remaining historic building on the site, archeological digs have uncovered evidence of countless other buildings, including ancient indigenous wigwams, colonial taverns and housing for enslaved families.
  • Archeological evidence suggests people lived on the shores of the Patuxent River for at least 13 thousand years.
  • This serene spot was once a bustling colonial port town and became the county seat in 1696. In 1710, the town included an Anglican church, courthouse, jail and taverns for the merchants and sailors. But the county seat shifted over to Upper Marlboro in 1721. Afterward, the colonial port town gradually faded away, one building at a time.
  • The brick plantation house dates to 1789. Its owners enslaved hundreds of African-heritage men, women and children until Emancipation in 1864.
  • During the War of 1812, in August 1814, if you were standing on the bluff, you would have witnessed a terrifying scene in the river, as American forces exploded their own ships, scuttling them as the British drew closer. The Brits landed at Mount Calvert and marched 500 troops from there to Upper Marlboro, where they joined the main British forces.
  • The Chesapeake Beach Railway ran through the property between 1899 and 1935, crossing from Anne Arundel County across the Patuxent just below the mansion.

Know Before You Go

Despite the hours indicating the museum is open during the warmer months on Saturdays and Sundays, we were there around 1 p.m. on a Saturday and the museum wasn’t open. There were no cars in the parking lot, just four kayakers picnicking on the front porch. We peered into the windows (half expecting something to peer back) and walked around, reading the historical signs. Thus, this post is both a teaser and a place holder for a return visit and a subsequent article that goes more indepth.

Getting there: 16801 Mt Calvert Rd, Upper Marlboro, MD
Hours: The house and museum exhibit are open April through October on Saturdays from 10 am-4 pm, and on Sundays from 12 noon-4 pm. Archaeological excavations are open on most Saturdays from April through October. 
Website: Mount Calvert Archeological and Historical Park