hrough three centuries, Doughoregan Manor has stood watch over its domain, a sprawling estate so mysterious that some Howard County neighbors don't know it exists - and so valuable that developers can't stop thinking about it.
Now, its clock is ticking down.
About 275 years old, with 20 rooms, a private chapel and a long, tree-lined drive, the country home of founding father Charles Carroll is Maryland's answer to Mount Vernon and Monticello. And it has something neither of those landmarks can claim - it is the only home of a Declaration of Independence signer still in family hands.
As one family member put it a few years ago, "Only God, the Indians and the Carrolls have owned this land."
That could change, though.
In 2007, a 30-year historical preservation easement on the manor and the land surrounding it will expire. This raises a momentous prospect: The owners could sell about 860 acres closest to the manor for development.
"It's the single most important property or tract of land in the central part of Maryland," said John Bernstein, executive director of the Maryland Environmental Trust. "It's an historic property that's been in the same hands for hundreds of years, with a thousand acres of land around it - and it's unfortunately in one of the hottest development areas in the state."
HIGH STAKES FOR COUNTY
For Howard County, the stakes in the family's decision are huge. For years, the estate has been the first line of defense for the county's rural west, a holdout against the march of subdivisions.
But with zoning changes, the land could support as many as 2,000 homes - adding thousands of cars and schoolchildren to one of the county's most congested areas.
Though no one fears that the manor house, a national landmark, is at risk of destruction, the sale of surrounding land could deprive the estate of what many consider its greatest asset: its relative isolation from the sprawl of modern-day Maryland. The few who have visited the manor say it's so peaceful, it might just be 1776 again.
"It can't sit on 50 acres or 100 acres. It needs every acre it's got to be what it is," said Ann Jones of Ellicott City, who grew up on a farm west of the manor. "That's what's so special about it."
Fueling the suspense over the estate's fate is the silence of the manor's owners, Philip A. Carroll, 76, and his children, Philip D. Carroll, 39, and Camilla Carroll, 41. They have offered few clues about their plans for the property and have greatly restricted access to the manor to ward off gawkers.
In the 1980s, the senior Philip Carroll, who lives at the manor, won county approval to close Manor Lane, a public road through the estate. For years, he has rented outbuildings to local police officers to further discourage trespassers.
And in the past decade, he ended the age-old traditions of letting a local parish hold Mass at the manor chapel and inviting local foxhunters for a "blessing of the hounds" on Thanksgiving Day.
None of the manor's owners would consent to an interview. But in written responses to an interview request, Philip A. Carroll and his daughter, who lives in a separate manor building, said they have no plans to develop the land. Camilla Carroll wrote that she and her brother "hope we and our descendants will be able to live in peace and privacy in the house for many years to come" and that "the house and its surrounding lands will remain manageable."
But sources close to county government say Philip A. Carroll and his son have asked in recent years about development options.
For preservationists, the family's desire for privacy poses a challenge. Wary of alienating the Carrolls with an aggressive pitch for land conservation, they are quick to praise the family's upkeep of the manor and to stress that it is, in the end, up to the Carrolls to decide the manor's fate.
Still, they say it's never too early to build the case for preservation, with developers eyeing the land.
"I hope people look at this now, because it's much easier to come up with a solution now than at the point when someone is planning to develop," said William Bolger, who oversees area landmarks for the National Park Service. "But we don't want to do something to alarm [the Carrolls]. In a private property case, it's very delicate."
The manor's position is a powerful reminder of how far Maryland has come since the days of Charles Carroll, the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the thought that the manor house might one day be crowded by neighbors was laughable: The estate encompassed more than 10,000 acres, an area so large it had its own post office. Anyone who tees off at Hobbits Glen or Turf Valley, or lives in most areas of western Columbia, or hunts deer at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area is on land the Carrolls once owned.
"All of where we are was once Doughoregan Manor," said Donna Mennito, a former director of Howard's farmland preservation program. "This was all theirs."
The story of the Maryland Carrolls begins in 1688, when Charles Carroll, the signer's grandfather, left Ireland for the colonies, partly to escape the persecution of rich Catholics under British rule.
The Maryland Carrolls' family crest summed up the move: "Anywhere, so long as there be freedom."
In 1702, Carroll "the Settler" secured a grant on 7,000 acres along the Middle Patuxent River, and in 1711, he added 3,000 acres to complete Doughoregan - pronounced Doa-RAY-gun and named after an ancestral territory in Ireland.
By 1720, he and his son, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, had acquired almost 50,000 acres in Maryland.
But like their ancestors, they were haunted by the threat that the land would be seized by Protestants - even in Maryland, a relatively safe place for Catholics.
This fear of dispossession, some say, finds an echo in the manor's owners and their deep wariness of government land conservation programs.
In "Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland," College of William & Mary historian Ronald Hoffman describes a brief encounter with the senior Philip Carroll. Hoffman mentioned that he had met a descendant of the English Protestants who seized a Carroll castle in Ireland in the 17th century.
"Those people are on our land," answered a glaring Carroll.
While the Colonial Carrolls distrusted the Protestant establishment, they also did their best to emulate it - most notably by building a sturdy country manor at Doughoregan. In 1727 or thereabouts, Carroll of Annapolis built the foundation of today's manor - a house of English brick flanked by a private chapel. (Public worship by Catholics was forbidden.)
With their swelling wealth - supplemented by part ownership of the Baltimore Iron Works and high-interest lending - the Carrolls were serious about estate planning. Carroll of Annapolis didn't formalize his marriage until his son - the future signer - had turned 20 and proved his worth after a decade of Jesuit schooling in Europe.
(This preoccupation with estate planning also has been passed down to the modern-day Carrolls. In the will read after her 1988 death, Philip A. Carroll's mother, Nina, made clear that if Camilla Carroll survives her father and brother, she should give the manor to a male relative in exchange for other property, in keeping with the tradition of male ownership of the manor.)
On his return to the Colonies, the signer, who also went by the name of Carroll of Carrollton, spent most of his time at the family's winter home in Annapolis. There, he became embroiled in anti-British activism that culminated in independence in 1776. Legend has it that he declared, "There go a few millions," while signing on to the rebellion that put his fortune at risk.
With time, Carroll gravitated to Doughoregan. It was there that he received George Washington, whose request for a personal loan Carroll once rejected, and later, French writer Alexis de Tocqueville.
And it was at Doughoregan that the signer lived out his long retirement, taking daily baths at a limestone pool in the morning, riding his stallion around the perimeter and reading Cicero in his study. When he died at the age of 95 in 1832, he was the richest man in America - an aged oak, Daniel Webster said in his eulogy, "standing alone on the plain, ... sole survivor of an assembly of as great men as the world has witnessed."
OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT
It was an impressive life, but don't expect to read about it on roadside plaques near the manor.
The estate is only a dozen miles from the Baltimore line, but it might as well be in deepest Appalachia, so little do most Marylanders know of the landmark and its most famous resident, entombed in the manor chapel. On county maps, the estate is a blank area encircled by Columbia and Ellicott City.
The best explanation for Doughoregan's low profile is that unlike other landmarks, it has first and foremost always been a home - and a well-used one at that. Family and friends' accounts of the estate describe an idyllic retreat enjoyed by the branches of the large Carroll clan.
One cousin of Philip A. Carroll's who grew up nearby recalls dropping by in the summer to swim in the spring-fed pool that was "full of snakes and turtles." Another cousin recalls dodging an "angry rooster" while collecting eggs.
Martha Clark Crist, daughter of retired state Sen. James Clark, whose ancestors were indentured servants to the Carrolls and whose farm adjoins Doughoregan, recalls a children's birthday party in the 1960s where guests pulled beribboned party favors out of a silver bowl on the dining room table.
In the late 19th century, jousting contests were held at the manor; later, there was an annual horse show whose proceeds went to charity. And there were weddings, baptisms and Masses at the chapel, where neighbor Barbara Feaga would play a tiny foot-pedal organ to a weekly full house of 100.
"It was a house with a family atmosphere in it," said Robert Goodloe Harper Carroll, a cousin who lives in Florida. "You felt when you came into it that someone lived there, that it was home."
Every generation that came through left its mark, as documented in the 1957 will of Philip Carroll, the father of the current resident.
Entering the house in the front hall, visitors would have seen a pair of inlaid mahogany Hepplewhite folding-top card tables, an antique inlaid mahogany-cased grandfather clock, an antique Sheraton sofa and four Carroll portraits, including one of the signer.
A visit to the kitchen would have revealed 89 French china dishes with the family crest; a sterling water pitcher, soup tureen and sugar tongs from Tiffany; and 499 pieces of sterling flatware. The library featured six maple Duncan Phyfe side chairs, with five others in the "cardinal's room" and the "priest's room."
The five servants' rooms were furnished more sparingly, with cots, metal towel racks and shaving stands. The master bedroom was dominated by firearms: a total of 19 rifles, shotguns and pistols were arrayed around a four-poster bed.
Just how many of these items remain today is hard to say because few people have been inside the manor in the past two decades. Increasingly upset about trespassers - some would picnic on the manor lawn, others would march right up to the windows to peek in - Philip A. Carroll took steps in the past 30 years to limit access.
In 1977, when the family placed the estate into a conservation easement to sharply reduce the estate taxes at Nina Carroll's death, it made sure that the agreement allowed the construction of guardhouses, if necessary.
In 1981, Carroll and other Manor Lane residents petitioned to have four miles of the road made private, saying the road "attracts persons carrying on illegal transactions," including transferring stolen gas and planting marijuana. County officials approved the request, noting the promise by Carroll's attorney that Carroll "is cognizant of the historical significance of the property and will permit persons interested in viewing the Manor while driving along the lane to continue to do so."
GRACIOUS BUT PRIVATE
Despite the pledge, no-trespassing signs eventually went up at each end of the road. Over the next decade, two dozen police officers would take up Carroll's offer of reduced rent to live in tenant houses and help patrol the estate.
Thomas Larimore, a former officer who lived in the overseer's house with his family for eight years, recalls that having police cars parked around the estate helped scare off intruders. He also recalls the well-defined boundary between tenants and the senior Carroll, whom neighbors and relatives describe as "gracious" and "decent" but extremely private.
"I never had a cross word with Mr. Carroll, and he never had a cross word with me," he said. "We'd go to the chapel on Sundays, and I know he cared for my family, but all that being the case, it never would have occurred to me to walk down the driveway and knock on his door. That wasn't done."
In the past 10 years, Carroll ended the Thanksgiving hound-blessing and the weekly Masses. (There were exceptions: When the Larimores lost their infant child five years ago, Carroll offered them the chapel for the services. "That should speak volumes for his heart," Larimore said.)
When 125 members of the Carroll family held a reunion in 1997, they met at the Homewood estate of the signer's son on the Johns Hopkins University campus because the manor was not made available to them.
Relatives who once enjoyed visiting the manor say they miss the place but respect its owners' desire for privacy.
"I wouldn't want people tramping through my house," said Mary Carroll Potter, an Alexandria, Va., cousin. "I wish him well. Beyond that, I wouldn't want to impose."
Carroll relatives show a similar deference toward the owners' plans for the manor.
"It's sort of my heritage as well, but I don't give [the owners] money to keep it up," said Mary Carroll Potter. Preserving the estate "would be our hope, but if they can't afford it, they can't afford it."
Underlying some relatives' reluctance to advise the manor's owners is a fear of being seen as a hypocrite: Most Carrolls sold their portions of the family's original fiefdom years ago.
"I don't think our founder would be very happy with us. But we made our decisions at a time completely different than his," said Robert Goodloe Harper Carroll, who sold his land for the Hobbits Glen Golf Course.
This much is clear: The Carrolls probably won't have the option of sitting tight in 2007. Once the easement expires, the estate will be taxed on its potential sale value, giving the family a much higher tax bill if it neither sells the land nor puts it under a new easement.
The estate is in the rural conservation zone that covers most of western Howard, which would limit development to one home per 2 acres. But a developer could seek zoning changes for a dense "mixed-use" project such as two recently approved in southern Howard with a total of 2,300 homes.
A mixed-use development at Doughoregan would require extending the area served by county sewer and water. This is a touchy issue; the area's boundary is the county's Iron Curtain, dividing its populous east from its rural west.
Howard plans to keep the boundaries, but as eastern Howard becomes increasingly crowded, pressure is building to expand the line west. And if expansion occurs anywhere, the manor would be an obvious site - it is surrounded on three sides by the service area, between Columbia and Ellicott City.
With or without public water and sewer service, the land could fetch a huge sum, probably more than $15,000 per acre, developers agree.
"It is very prime property," said developer James R. Schulte. "It's well-located, it has road access. With its location and scale, there aren't any more properties like it."
Preservationists acknowledge that they can't compete dollar for dollar with what a developer would offer the Carrolls. But they argue that conservation could be made appealing with a package of tax breaks and contributions from national groups such as the Getty Institute or Trust for Public Lands.
One of the most lucrative options is local: Howard's farmland conservation program pays about $6,500 per acre, much of it tax-free. Philip A. Carroll's two siblings, who with their children own the lower 1,200 acres of the manor's land, have placed 685 acres into it.
Some preservationists can't help but fantasize about the manor's potential for educating the public about 18th-century life in Maryland. But others who hope to preserve the estate say doing so wouldn't have to compromise the family's privacy.
"I don't have any need for it to be made open to the public," said Jones of Ellicott City. "Just knowing it's there is enough."
On this, preservationists agree: No matter how enticing an easement is, it won't work unless the owners are willing to consider it.
"Land is such a close-to-the-heart kind of thing that you can't ever sell people on these things. It depends on some innate sense that this is one property in the state that should be preserved. And they're probably sick of thinking about that," said Bernstein of the Environmental Trust.
Friends and relatives say they can well imagine the pressures that are bearing down on the owners as decision time approaches.
Some speculate about the financial burden of caring for the manor, which the few who have visited say remains in good condition. Carroll relatives who have given to the houses at Homewood and Annapolis say they would chip in if it would help stave off a land sale.
"If someone asked us, we would, but we're not going to bring it up," said cousin Charlie Carroll of Baltimore County, a former president of Preservation Maryland.
Cousin Wilfred Wright, who in 1986 sold 200 acres adjacent to the manor for more than $10,000 per acre, doubted the cost of upkeep played much of a role in the owners' thinking, saying he "never had the impression that [the Carrolls] couldn't afford the place."
More likely, Wright said, is that the family would be driven to sell by the same nuisances that helped persuade him to do so. Wright recalled how irked he had been coming home from the chapel some Sundays to find someone changing his oil in his driveway, on the assumption that it was a public road.
"There's no economic value to that," said Wright, who lives in Carroll County. "Those are the kind of things that matter a lot to Philip."
Then there is the larger-scale encroachment: the mini-mansions pressing at the estate's edges, many of them on land sold by other Carrolls; and the retail strip that has taken over nearby U.S. 40.
The surroundings aren't exactly an inspiration to conservation, friends and relatives say.
"The government has succeeded in screwing this state up in a really amazing way, and they haven't," said cousin Douglas Carroll of Baltimore County. "If I was the only person who hadn't screwed it up, I don't know if I'd feel an obligation to save it."
The westward creep of development has also complicated the business of farming, said Philip A. Carroll's niece, Natalie Ziegler, who runs the farming operation on land owned by Carroll's siblings. Philip Carroll leases the land to a farm manager who grows corn and soybeans, according to neighbors.
"It's never easy to farm in a rapidly urbanizing county," said Ziegler. "Every winter, we're saying our prayers."
Then there are the pressures of history. Philip A. Carroll and his children are hanging onto the last vestige of a small empire assembled with great care by ancestors 300 years ago. It's a heavy thought to live with, said Bernstein.
"People who've owned land for a long time sometimes get sick of that responsibility. They get ambivalent," he said. "They feel like they're living an anachronistic life in a declining era. They can't leave to their families what their families left to them. They feel the tide of history is against them."
Working in the other direction is the pressure that every homeowner with the option of selling faces: an emotional attachment to the place where one grew up. The best reminder of this may be from Mary Mayo Crenshaw, who in 1929 visited the manor for an article in the magazine Mentor.
At the time, Philip A. Carroll, the current resident, was 4 years old. A picture in the magazine shows him rolling in the grass outside the manor with his brother in white knickers.
"Upon the lawn of the old manor house today play two little boys - Carrolls of the next generation in this county," Crenshaw reported. "They are too young yet to grasp the historic nature of the place. To them, as to their statesmen ancestors, it means just home."
Sun library researchers Paul M. McCardell and Dee Lyon and staff writer Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun, www.sunspot.net