Epsom Mansion, built during the 1780s by John Robert Holliday, grandson of Colonel Charles Ridgely, was a colonial structure of stone with large wooden columns in front.
Though little visual evidence of the early mansion survives, an 1835 drawing by Henry Banning Chew indicates that it consisted of two wings, most likely constructed at separate times. The larger west wing was a two and a half story, modest Georgian structure featuring a small front portico porch. The smaller, and probably older, east wing was also two and a half stories, and featured a separate entrance door as well as a one-story addition with a shed roof on the side.
Sometime between 1835 and 1843, Henry Banning Chew built an addition to the mansion consisting of two conservatories and a Doric portico. These additions enhanced the appearance of the mansion so that it conformed to the Greek Revival style popular at the time. This stylish mansion was widely admired.
Epsom Mansion – South Elevation and West Portico
When fire destroyed the mansion in 1894, Baltimore County residents were stunned. The Maryland Journal reported: “the ruins were the mecca for pilgrims... and hundreds visited the scene all day.” With the burning of Epsom Mansion, all the Chew relics and papers within were destroyed. The current Julia Rogers building sits on the exact location of Epsom Mansion.
Henry Banning Chew created an inventory in 1855 describing the items in the Epsom mansion and their value. From this inventory, a picture of the interior of the Epsom mansion can be recreated.
The main hall was the first room that people saw when they entered Epsom mansion, and set the tone for the rest of the house. The inventory indicates a number of high style items used for decorative purposes in the hall: glass (cut) chandelier, chain hangings, Venetian carpeting best quality, and sheepskin. There were few chairs listed for the room, indicating that a person would only pass through the hall and not remain there for a long period of time. The hall connected to the main staircase, parlors, and dining room.
The Front Parlour was a stylish room next to the main hall. It was decorated elaborately to demonstrate wealth, and was designed for aesthetic appeal rather than leisure. Consequently, the furniture in the room was meant to display good taste.
The Back Parlour or Drawing Room was a private room for the family to entertain closer friends and guests. After a meal, family and close friends would “withdraw” to lounge and enjoy such items as liquor, “segars,” or wine. The inventory lists numerous chairs and tables used for relaxation. In comparison to the Front Parlour, the Back Parlour has more items to indicate that the room was used more often.
A nineteenth century dining room would have held both formal and possibly informal events for the family. Everyday meals such as breakfast and lunch would have been held in the Breakfast room, but when friends and acquaintances were invited over for formal events, the dining room would have been utilized. The dining room had a large table as well as smaller tables to accommodate many guests. The carpeting was described as “Brussels” which means it was created in Brussels and was also expensive to have. There was a Franklin stove listed to heat the room and possibly the whole house. Along with a dining table and chairs, there was also a sofa and armchairs, which could suggest that the dining room was also an area for lounging.
The kitchen was located in the back right corner on the first floor of the Epsom Estate. It was part of the original structure built on the grounds. The inventory of the kitchen suggests that it was used as a workspace in which food was only prepared and not eaten. It does not seem as though any form of entertainment took place in the kitchen. Items found such as chicken coops, wheelbarrows, and butcher knives help illustrate the purely working nature of the room. Harriet Chew remembered clearly her childhood there:
"...the brick kitchen with its great fireplace complete with cranes and pothooks, and Aunt Lyddy who cooked in it, using the sun's rays in the areaway as a clock..." Isabel B. Moncure, “Future Perfect Tense, A History of Goucher’s Future Home,” Goucher Alumnae Quarterly Vol. XIX (May 1941), p. 6.
The breakfast room was across the hall from the kitchen, on the first floor, and in the original portion of the house. The breakfast room in comparison to the kitchen seems to be a space used more for entertainment but less so than the dining room. This is possibly where the family would eat their meals, and entertain on a smaller scale. This is suggested through the fine items such as a sofa, white stone soup bowls, and a Syrian rug.
The master bedroom was the largest of the bedrooms and located on the second floor. During this time, the master bedroom’s function was more than just a private sphere to sleep. It was also a public forum to entertain guests, study, write, and take care of children. There was a wide variety of furniture, ranging from the master bed to a game table. Large chairs accompanied a center table. There were also washstands, toilet tables and towel racks. More conventionally, there were feather beds, night tables and lavish rugs organized throughout the room.
There are two well-defined chambers in the 1855 inventory described as the “garret” and “the attic.” Various items were listed in the inventory indicating that these rooms were used for both storage and living space. The attic contained a bedstead, bed mattress, and bedding, along with a toilet table and washstand. The garrets contained similar items as well as a looking glass and old chairs, indicating storage. Generally speaking, the attics were living quarters for the children. The servants would usually live in the garrets.