Things that Manor
A look back through the life and times of Sarum
Writer: L. Beth Bonifant | Photographer: August Selckmann | Fall 2021
On a bright and sunny summer day, golf flags looked festive lining the front lawn “greens” while hay fields fringing Sarum were getting mowed in the distance. In the backyard, hanging baskets of flowers, string lights and fresh green ferns in tall urns were other celebratory signs of a recent family wedding. In fact, it was the latest of two weddings in three months for granddaughters of Mary Ellen Heinze, beloved family matriarch and long-time mistress of the Manor.
Mary Ellen has held this role with distinction since she and her husband purchased the property in 1965, but what would you expect from a former “soap star.” Discovered in the waiting room of a doctor’s office as an infant, Heinze appeared as a baby model in Ivory Soap advertisements of yesteryear. That star power is still evident today with her characteristic ever-present broad smile and bright eyes.
Mary Ellen was a New York native attending Trinity College in Washington when meeting George Heinze, a Georgetown University student. A Michigan native, George came to attend Georgetown Prep and stayed for University, then Law School.
After graduation, Mary Ellen returned to New York briefly to begin a short career at the fledgling Sports Illustrated magazine before marrying Heinze and living in Washington. George joined a private law firm and the couple settled in Bethesda where their family quickly grew, eventually welcoming seven children in 10 years. Somehow, George still found time to engage in local and state politics while serving as a board member at Congressional Country Club where he came away with a golf championship.
In 1965, the young 31-year-old George stumbled on an intriguing real estate ad in the newspaper for a historic Southern Maryland manor. With more than 300 acres in Newport overlooking the Wicomico River, the property was priced at what Heinze deemed a “real steal.” Arrangements were hastily made for a visit, but it was most likely a foregone conclusion within moments of arriving at idyllic “Sarum.” The family remained in Bethesda several more years, driving to Sarum on weekends before officially establishing residency in the summer of ’69.
In anticipation of their move, the Heinze’s initiated construction of an addition that wasn’t yet fully complete by that time. The new wing ultimately replaced a screened side porch and enclosed a small one-story brick section on the east end, which was built in 1762 as evidenced by the embossed date on an exterior brick. The addition enlarged and opened the kitchen area to a new spacious family room with a brick fireplace on the end wall, and a back staircase leading to the fresh second floor master suite.
A MANOR OF TIME
Though Sarum has undergone many changes over the centuries, there’s a sense of timelessness that much remains the same. Originating as a frame one-and-a-half story hall-parlor plan (one room deep and two rooms wide) with a steeply pitched gable roof housing two or more attic chambers. Illustrations of its early façade depict a more primitive appearance than today’s refined exterior. Additions on the rear and both ends resulted in its present saltbox profile. Popular in 17th- and 18th-century America, saltbox houses feature a sloping “catslide” roof extending beyond the main eaves on the back, allowing for the placement of a one-story addition.
A National Register of Historic Places inventory form filed in 1969 denotes Sarum as a 17th-century dwelling constructed circa 1680. Contradictorily, dendrochronology tests conducted in 1980 revealed the original portion dates to 1717 and its rear shed addition, 1737.
Despite previous uncertainty, these findings establish Sarum as the oldest conclusively-dated building in Charles County.
The first owner of Sarum was Englishman John Pile, a merchant-planter, legislator and recipient of two manor grants in 1658 and 1662 totaling 1,000 acres. After his death, the property passed to his son, Joseph, who appealed to Lord Baltimore and received an additional 150 acres of marshland which he named Baltimore Bounty. These patents carried all manorial rights with full power to hold Courts Leet and Baron.
The 1717 house was built by Joseph’s son, Joseph Pile, Jr., to replace the former family dwelling, and would remain in the Pile family until it was sold in 1836 by Francis Hammersley Pile. Over the next century, there were multiple holders. By the time Lawrence Campbell purchased Sarum in 1937, it was in a dire state of deterioration. Campbell was responsible for rescuing Sarum, performing extensive renovations inside and out. It became his passion to bring the house back to life, but how would he know years later it would be the Heinzes who’d bring life back to the house?
THE WONDER YEARS
There were no sidewalks to rollerskate or streets for riding a new Stingray, no ice-cream trucks, bookmobiles or block parties. Then again, there were wide open spaces to revel in, woods, fields and streams to explore, steep slopes for snow sledding and freedom galore! There were horses, ponies and dogs through the years, including a string of favored Irish Setters.
But, the most memorable family pet was a surprise named Max. George brought the orphan calf home and everyone took turns bottle feeding it. It wasn’t unusual to find Max laying across the top of the brick steps in front of the kitchen door, but it was quite a shock when he was discovered in the house after using his horn to open their door. All good things come to an end and when the bull became a bully he was taken to an Amish farm with an antique shop and traded for a fine grandfather clock. A faded photo of Max sitting on the front steps still hangs on the wall in the hall next to his clock.
Life was never dull. After retiring as a partner from Mudd and Mudd Law Firm in La Plata, Heinze was active in real estate development and launched several other ventures. He was known for his ideas and thinking out of the box. Or, perhaps we should say in the box when he founded the very first pizza delivery service in Southern Maryland in 1984. Today, his sons still operate locations in La Plata and Charlotte Hall; both stores have been selected Best Pizza in Southern Maryland for Charles and St. Mary’s County and the brothers remain just as popular with patrons as their pizzas. George Heinze was gone too soon when he passed away from a heart attack in 1990 at age 56, but his legacy lingers evermore.
MINDING YOUR MANORS
Every house can use a little face lift once in a while, and a manor house is no exception. Mary Ellen Heinze has been busy recently, with the help of her family, making a few age-related adjustments and repairs. Unworkable windows dating to the late 18th century in the living room, dining room and both first-floor bedrooms were rehabbed by local craftsman Henry Hertzler of Charlotte Hall.
According to Hertzler, he could tell by the nails that the windows were last restored more than 100 years ago. Though the old front door was beyond repair, a new mahogany door is more handsome than ever. It was custom made by fellow Charlotte Hall resident Emmanuel Kurtz, who reinstalled the original horizontal brass rim lock and replaced the fixed transom above the door.
Vintage living room paneling was replicated for the front hall. Paneled floor to ceiling on all sides, the creamy colored walls in the living room are complimented by the room size wool rug in a splendid royal azure shade of blue. A woman’s striking portrait hangs above the fireplace mantle: Mary Ellen’s mother, Catherine Mahony O’Neal. “Maw,” as her grandchildren called her, is a vision of loveliness wearing a white cape with black trim tied around her shoulders, and white elbow length gloves.
During the late 18th century, the dining room was embellished with hand-carved cornices, chair rails and a dado paneled mantle. An ornate brass candelabra with crystal pendants sits in a place of honor on the mantle. The sconce depicting Boston College belonged to Mary Ellen’s parents who were married at the school and always kept the piece in the same place of prominence in their own home. Mary Ellen is sentimental about the wallpaper in her dining room too, but sadly, it has seen better days. Her daughters have assisted in the selection of an appealing replacement: a delicate design in grass cloth by Schumacher, with beautiful flowering branches silhouetted against a soft natural background.
Sarum and its mistress are in good hands, seven sets to be exact. There’s a good view of Sarum’s future from up on that hill, and as they look at the valley and river below, they know this is where their families will always come to gather together as they continue to grow. No manor what. ▪