J. Richard Rivoire
Bel Alton Newtown Road, Bel Alton, Charles County
Rich Hill is a two-story, gable-roofed frame building built probably in the in the early to mid 18th century but with alterations dating to c. 1800, c.1825, the late 19th century. The house has a double chimney on one end and a one-story frame wing with central chimney on the other. The main house possesses many architectural features that are significant to the study and interpretation of the vernacular architecture of the Southern Maryland region. The principal facade of Rich Hill faces southeast and is four bays wide at the first floor level. The entrance occupies the first bay in from the east corner. The three remaining first floor bays are occupied by windows, as are the five bays across the second story. On both stories the window and door surrounds are of a type popular in this region during the first several decades of the 19th century, although the windows themselves have late-19th century 2/2 sash. Fronting the southeast facade is a one-story, shed-roofed farm porch that was probably added to the house in the late 19th or early 20th century. At the southwest end of the main block is a large double chimney with a two-story, windowed pent. The chimney weatherings are stepped on three sides at the attic gable level and the two stacks are free-standing. Four windows were introduced on this elevation in about the third quarter of the 19th century, one on each side of the chimney at both floor levels. On the first floor level of the rear elevation the house is three bays wide with doors occupying the center bay and the first bay in from the north corner. The latter door occupies an area of a former window opening. Across the second floor level are three windows. With the exception of the first floor end door, the moldings framing these openings are stylistically of an earlier date than the other windows and doors, and probably date from about c. 1800. The gable roof of Rich Hill is presently covered with corrugated tin. The roof framing, however, is an early-19th century replacement of the original. The original roof, also gabled but much more steeply pitched, was first covered with riven clapboards. This initial sheathing was followed by subsequent coverings of round and butt-end shingles. The exterior walls of the house are sheathed with beaded random-width clapboards. The date of their application is probably contemporary with the c.1825 renovation date of the house. One of the more interesting structural features of Rich Hill is the manner in which the wall sills are seated on top of evenly spaced quarried stone blocks, a feature thought to be unique in Southern Maryland. In later years the area between the stone blocks was filled with coursed bricks.
The historical significance of Rich Hill relates directly to its ownership by Col. Samuel Cox and the role Cox played in the flight of John Wilkes Booth through Charles County to Virginia following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1865. Samuel Cox, whose sympathy for the Southern cause was well known, hid Booth and his companion-in-crime, David Herold, on his Rich Hill farm after Booth and Herold were sent there upon being discovered in a nearby swamp by a neighbor's servant. Cox then proceeded to arrange for their safe (and secret) passage to Virginia. Booth and Herold remained hidden in a pine thicket at Rich Hill until April 21, when Thomas A. Jones, foster brother of Colonel Cox and a former Chief Signal Agent for the Confederacy, provided them with a small boat in which they crossed the Potomac River to Virginia. In the trials that followed Booth's eventual capture in Virginia, Cox and Jones were convicted of aiding Booth in his flight and sentenced to brief imprisonments--Jones six weeks, and Cox seven. Rich Hill is included in the "Booth Trail," defined by published tour guides and marked by state historical markers that locate all stops Booth made from his exit from Ford's Theatre to the barn and house of the Garrett Farm in Virginia where he was shot and killed by Union soldiers. Rich Hill also has great architectural significance. Although the present exterior and first floor appearance of Rich Hill reflects the period of Cox's ownership, its original early or mid-18th century skeleton and contemporary second floor treatment establish its architectural significance as well. The original floor plan was one characteristic of the Charles and St. Mary's County region throughout the 18th century. However, it is one of only two known and recorded houses with this plan that were initially built as two-story dwellings (the other being Marshall Hall). Important original elements that survive include the cut stone piers on which the house stands, the very handsome doors and hardware of the second floor, and the unique design of the second floor ceilings.