Charlotte Hall Historic District
Charlotte Hall Road, Charlotte Hall, Saint Marys County
The Charlotte Hall Historic District encompasses a small village intersected by "Old Route 5" which runs east to west through the town and along which many of the existing buildings and sites are situated. Within the historic district boundaries are 13 recorded buildings and sites of historic and/or architectural interest as well as the main campus of the Charlotte Hall Military Academy, the oldest military preparatory school in Maryland. As a result of its being bypassed by Maryland Route 5, Charlotte Hall has managed to preserve much of its aesthetic charm and its original basic plan. As previously stated nearly all of the houses are situated along the "Old Route 5," which serves as the main street through the village. All of the houses are attractively situated on commodious, tree-shaded lots and are, for the most part, in good repair. The hamlet is bounded on its perimeter by open, uncultivated meadows and woodland and its age and continuity is readily apparent to one entering the district from either end. The campus of the academy figures predominantly in the townscape and its rural unspoiled beauty gently commands attention. Fortunately, almost all of the newer school facilities are concentrated toward the rear of the campus and are almost completely sheltered from view by a great number of large trees and expanses of lawn. The several hundred acres of the campus are concentrated towards the southeast end of the village, with all of the residential dwellings bounding it on its north and west sides.
Charlotte Hall is perhaps best known in Maryland as the home of the Charlotte Hall Military Academy. Founded in 1774, the school was initially conceived as a consolidation of all of the free schools in the four Southern Maryland counties. War and economic depression delayed its construction and opening until 1797. Charlotte Hall School became a military academy in 1852, and remained so until 1974 when the school opened its doors to females and the military program became optional. Although Charlotte Hall has remained a relatively small institution, its archives show a varied and interesting history. Throughout much of the 19th century it was recognized as one of the finest schools of its type in the country. Past alumni and trustees include Roger Brooke Taney, fifth Judge of the U.S. Supreme Court; the Right Reverend Thomas John Claggett, First Episcopal Bishop consecrated in America; John Marshall Scott Causin, notable Congressman during the administration of John Quincy Adams; George Watterson, the first Librarian of Congress; Edward Bates, Attorney General during the Lincoln administration; and three Maryland Governors: Robert Bowie (1803-06 and 1811-1812), Thomas King Carroll (1830-1831), and James Thomas, (1833-1836). During the one hundredth anniversary of the school in 1874 the celebrations were attended by 40 members of Congress, all of them alumni. However, the history of the village of Charlotte Hall, referred to in the late-17th and 18th century archival records as "Cool Springs," extends back to at least the end of the 17th century. In 1697-98 Southern Maryland suffered a severe outbreak of pestilence and it is recorded that the inhabitants of the region often visited the fresh water springs located here, believing that the water possessed medicinal qualities. At about the time of the turn of the 18th century a hospital was alleged to have been built near the site of the springs, possibly making Charlotte Hall the site one of the first sanitariums in the English-speaking colonies. Charlotte Hall has the distinction of being the largest surviving 18th century village in lower Southern Maryland. While other towns in this immediate region may have at the most four or five surviving structures dating before the Civil War--such as Chaptico or Port Tobacco--Charlotte Hall has about thirteen with the further possibility of others hidden behind later facades. Archeological investigations on the academy grounds, which were purchased by the Veterans Administration in 1978, have located the remains of the original "School Hall" (1797) and two later school buildings dating to 1857 and 1896. The 1803 principal's house--the "White House," restored in 1938--and the 1884 chapel survive and are easily accessible from the main road. The association of the military academy to the village and the existence of its several notable historic sites and examples of architecture easily establish the significance of this small community to the social history of Southern Maryland.