Bladensburg, established in 1742, was started as a “port town” where large ships could arrive and be loaded with tobacco and wares. However, by the time European colonists arrived and began working the soil in a more drastic way than the native population had, the river began to silt in. By the War of 1812, the river north of the bridge was already “fordable” by the British. Down river was still navigable for about 20 more years, but by the 1830s the port was closed. The community remained a commercial and industrial area but became overshadowed by those communities that were on the rail line and trolley lines.
Several historic buildings still remain in town, though they are either privately owned or used for businesses. Please contact the owner if you would like to arrange a visit.
A great website from the University of Maryland Special Collections with much more detail and historical references can be found here.
Stop 1 – Bladensburg Waterfront Park – Proceed from the Park out towards Annapolis Road, Route 450. If traveling by foot or by bike, please use the sidewalk as 450 is a heavily traveled road. We do recommend walking over a car since the parking is limited at each site. Turn right (east) toward stop 2.
Stop 2 – Magruder House – Route 450/ Annapolis Road – Built in 1746, the Hilleary Magruder House is one of only four remaining structures that bore witness to the Battle of Bladensburg. Several years earlier, its owner hosted President Washington to dinner. Reports from the time indicate that many of the houses nearby were used for field hospital type uses. This building is used as a private business, but owned by Prince George’s Heritage Inc. (For access: AEON Preservation Services, 301-563-9308)
Stop 3 – Market Masters Store/House – Corner of Annapolis Road and 48th Street – Originally used as a tobacco market and mail stop for the regional trade and shipping of tobacco in the Bladensburg area, Market Square has a small store located at the back corner which would have been closest to the docks. The “house” was actually used as a store and post office, one of the oldest remaining in the nation. At this point, the British troops, having marched from Long Old Fields and Upper Marlboro would have turned from the “river road” on to the main road leading to the port and sighted the Americans for the first direct contact. This is a private home, no access is available.
Stop 4 – Bostwick House – 48th Street – Built in 1746, the house is a 2-1/2 story Georgian brick house, with high buttress at south gable end and kitchen wing at north. There are several mid-twentieth century historic farm outbuildings. Bostwick was built by Christopher Lowndes, merchant and Town Commissioner. The house became the home of Lowndes’ son-in-law, Benjamin Stoddert, who was the first Secretary of Navy. The top of Lowndes Hill had been intended to be the American defenses and some earthworks were developed. However, when the British rode in, the Americans had abandoned the high ground for the other side of the bridge. The British used this house to scout down the hill towards the American positions. Located on 48th Street, this road, now a small side street, was originally the “river road” on which the British marched coming from Upper Marlboro. The route roughly follows a line through Seat Pleasant and then on to the Old Marlboro Pike. Today, the building is used by the University of Maryland Preservation Program for teaching and the house is going through a major restoration by the Aman Trust. Although the home is owned by the Town of Bladensburg, there is very limited access. (Contact the Town Clerks office at 301-927-7048.)
From here, return back on 48th Street and cross MD 450 at the crosswalk. Return west toward Peace Cross.
Side Stop: St. Paul’s Church – Located behind the Ernst Maier concrete block factory, the church has been home to African-American congregations since the Federal period. The current structure, built in the mid-19th century has endured in spite of heavy industrialization of the area. Members of the Plummer family, freed slaves of C.B. Calvert at Riversdale, were instrumental in its successful establishment and growth. The building is not open to the public and there is heavy traffic to access the site.
Stop 5 – Memorial Area/Balloon Park – Alternative Route 1/Baltimore Avenue and Bladensburg Road – This area is a memorial “circle” for the region. The large cross is the Peace Cross, built for the World War I veterans. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and 9/11 memorials are also here. The Battle of Bladensburg “Undaunted” monument has been built in the former Balloon Park, named for the first unmanned ascension of a balloon in American which happened near Bladensburg. The Undaunted Monument was designed and sculpted by Joanna Blake with funds raised by the Aman Memorial Trust. See more details on the Undaunted Monument page.
Stop 6 – George Washington House & Ross Tavern (site)- Alternative Route 1/Baltimore Avenue – (To access this building, we strongly recommend driving to the site.) Extant at the time of the battle, the building functioned as a store, with the Ross Tavern/Indian Queen Tavern next door. These buildings would have backed up to the river which has been channelized in the early 20th century. Joshua Barney was brought to the Ross Tavern, roughly located where the retail businesses are located. Somewhere near George Washington House, British located batteries of Congreve Rockets reported to be effective in frightening the inexperienced American Militia units into an early exit from the battlefield. These rockets became known as the “rockets red glare” in Key’s poem/song. Today the building is owned by the Anacostia Watershed Society. While this organization is public facing, the building is used as offices. Please call ahead to see the building and their gardens (301) 699-6204.