Rich Hill, Lincoln assassination heritage site, will be preserved
Booth holed up near historical Bel Alton home
His name is not quite Mudd, but Col. Samuel Cox’s name is close to it in the history books.
Cox’s home near Bel Alton, Rich Hill, is historically significant because John Wilkes Booth and companion David Herold arrived at the home in the early morning hours of April 16, 1865.
The day before, the two men had conspired, and Booth had succeeded, in assassinating the 16th president of the U.S., Abraham Lincoln.
For five days, Cox’s foster brother aided the conspirators with food and newspapers while they hid in the woods near Rich Hill before crossing the Potomac River to Virginia.
Rich Hill now will become a destination spot on the John Wilkes Booth Assassination Trail, thanks to the donation of the house and property to Charles County by the Vallario family.
“It’s a very important part of our heritage,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. The house will be restored with the state’s assistance — a $750,000 bond — to how it was when Booth visited.
Brad Gottfried, president of the College of Southern Maryland, is credited with the idea of acquiring the historic home for the trail. Gottfried, author of 10 books on the Civil War, with an 11th on the way, said he suggested preservation of Rich Hill to Miller after he used to drive by the house every day.
“I would see it, and I knew it was historic,” Gottfried said, adding that the exterior looked to be in good condition.
Gottfried said he was discussing CSM matters with Miller (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) one day and showed him pictures of Rich Hill. Miller immediately knew the house’s significance.
“I said, ‘If we don’t take care of it, it’s going to crumble,’” Gottfried said.
Originally, the plan was to have the house donated to the college, Gottfried said, but the college’s board believed that preserving the historic home was outside of the college’s mission. Gottfried suggested the Charles County Historical Society, and then Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly stepped up and said the county would take ownership of the house.
Gottfried said tour buses on the trail used to drive to the house, but tourists could not go inside.
“I think it’s going to actually enrich the Booth tour because the inside is going to be restored,” Gottfried said. “There’s such interest in the Lincoln assassination and Booth’s escape [through Charles County].”
Rich Hill was the missing link on the Booth Trail, he said.
“It’s really a draw for tourists and history buffs alike,” Kelly said. The historic home’s addition to the trail route also will be an economic development opportunity for the county.
Kelly (D) said she has a lot of gratitude for Miller for seeing the opportunity and not letting it pass by. She credits him with maintaining the advocacy necessary to make it possible. Kelly’s role in making the house part of the trail was facilitating contact between the parties involved “so Sen. Miller would have the information he needed for the bill to go through.”
Kelly said she would like to see other components of Rich Hill as a museum and tourist attraction, such as information about the role of agricultural at the time in the county.
“How was everyday life during that time in the county? I see a really great educational opportunity, as well,” Kelly said, adding that Miller’s efforts to get the house on the trail route have shown her how to get a project completed with a successful result.
The house’s preservation also is important for architectural significance.
Michael Mazzeo, vice president of the Charles County Historical Society, said the house was built in the early to mid-1700s by Rev. Richard Brown, the brother of Dr. Gustavus Brown, who was one of George Washington’s physicians. The name Rich Hill comes from Richard Brown. The house originally was built “with a unique Colonial architecture style long before the Civil War,” Mazzeo said.
The Cox family acquired the house and property in 1807. Hugh and Mary Ann Cox deeded the house to their son, Samuel Cox, in 1849. Renovations were made to the downstairs rooms in the house while in the ownership of the Cox family, as well as the additions of a room on the side and front and back porches. Since the Coxs’ ownership, however, the two porches and side room have been removed. Mazzeo said the society hopes the house will be rehabilitated to the way it was when Booth visited.
“We are ecstatic that the county has acquired [Rich Hill] and will preserve it,” said Mazzeo, who also is chairman of the Friendship House at CSM.
Rich Hill has been on the National Register of Historic Places since November 1975.