THE WYE HOUSE
hat is perhaps the oldest orangery in the United States just happens to be in Tanglewood Conservatory’s backyard! The Wye House, in Talbot County, has been in the same family for 11 generations. Archaeologists and researchers have been studying the property during the past few years and recently University of Maryland researchers unearthed the greenhouse where citrus trees and other edible and ornamental plants grew.
Mary Tilghman, the current owner, inherited the property from her aunt (her mother’s sister), Elizabeth Lloyd Schiller, when she died in 1993. Tilghman currently lives in the carriage house, while her son and his wife live in the main house and their son and his wife live in a more recently built house on the property.
The Edward Lloyd family, who were the original owners of the land, came from Virginia in 1649 and settled the land near the Severn River, formerly known as Providence; they lived there until the land outside of Easton was purchased in 1660. The family has lived on the property ever since. In all, nine Edward Lloyds owned the property. When the ninth Edward Lloyd joined the United States Navy, the land was transferred to his brother, Charles Howard Lloyd. When he died, his daughter, Elizabeth Lloyd Schiller bought her sister’s part of the property.
Mark Leone, the University of Maryland archaeologist leading the excavation, has been concentrating on the orangery, which was built in 1785, and which is possibly the oldest greenhouse left in the United States. Add to that the historical significance of Frederick Douglass spending part of his childhood on the Wye House plantation and we have an exciting bit of American and African American history to study!
The excavation unearthed a hypocaust, a heating system, which maintained the heating, lighting and watering system for the plants and trees. Also found were African American items, such as, a stone pestle (to control spirits), symbols embedded into the bricks of the furnace and charms buried near the orangery’s entrance. Greenhouses were, at that time, a mark of sophistication and a status symbol, and were imported from Europe. Thus, the archaeologists have been fascinated to uncover the work of African American slaves who lived and worked on the plantation and who were “pioneers in early U.S. agricultural experimentation… [including] wild broccoli and other greens, Seneca snakeroot as a cure-all, ginger root for tea, buckbean as an analgesic and antiemetic, and hardy bananas,” said Leone.
Frederick Douglass lived at Wye House in the mid-1820s and said the greenhouse “…abounded in fruits of almost every description, from the hardy apple of the north to the delicate orange of the south,” and that visitors from all over northern Maryland (Baltimore and from across the Chesapeake Bay) came to visit.
What a treasure we have, right here, in Tanglewood Conservatory’s backyard!
Photos Courtesy of Janet Blyborg on Flickr
Library of Congress
& Roxane Doster Watts