Last Sunday, May 19th, I took advantage of one of the bimonthly tours of Tudor Hall near Bel Air, Maryland.
On June 30, 1821, famed British tragedian Junius Brutus Booth and his pregnant lady, Mary Ann Holmes, arrived in America. Their voyage across the sea from their native England was due twofold. First, Junius hoped for greater wealth and success in the new land and second, the pair were hoping to escape and start anew to avoid the truth of their relationship. Though assumed to be man and wife, Junius and Mary Ann were not married. Spell bound over her beauty and grace, Junius had fled England with Mary Ann, leaving his true wife, Adelaide Delannoy Booth, and son, Richard Junius Booth, behind. He set foot in the new land with his new woman, determined to start anew. His reputation proceeded him and quickly he was a star on the American stage. By December of 1821, Mary Ann gave birth to their first born, Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. Junius realized quickly that his fledging family would need a place to call home beyond their boardinghouse room in Charleston, South Carolina. In May of 1822, Junius signed a thousand year lease to rent out 150 acres in Harford County, Maryland. The area was isolated about 25 miles north east of Baltimore. It provided the privacy Junius craved for himself and his illegitimate family. The Booth’s first residence on their acreage, and the only one Junius himself would ever know on the property, was a small cabin. Booth had the cabin moved from its former spot on the property to a natural spring that ran through the land.
The act of moving the cabin to the spot by the spring was a big event:
“It caused quite an excitement in the neighborhood, people coming to witness the novel sight of a house being rolled across the fields, and many lent a helping hand.”
As his family grew, Junius had addition made to the log cabin, but ultimately had a more appropriate home in mind for his family. However, the act of caring for his family in America and sending money back home to England to keep Adelaide off of the scent forced him to continually delay his plans for another home. By 1840, Mary Ann was weary with her isolated life on the farm with so many children and so she and the kids moved to Baltimore, coming back during the summers to their Bel Air cabin.
Fast forward to 1851. After finally being caught in his lies, Adelaide Booth publicly and embarrassingly divorced Junius Brutus Booth, allowing he and Mary Ann to legally wed. The 56 year old actor was looking forward to retiring and so plans were made to finally construct the dream home in Bel Air that he had desired. From architectural plans he chose an Elizabethan style home:
He commissioned, architect James Gifford to build his new home which he called, “Tudor Hall”:
Sadly, Junius would never live in the completed house. He died on November 30th, 1852, before it was finished. After her husband’s death, Mary Ann would take her young children back to Bel Air to live at Tudor Hall. Eventually, when all her children had come of age, Mary Ann would leave Tudor Hall and rent it out. In 1878, she sold Tudor Hall and the Booths never returned.
Harford County managed to acquire Tudor Hall in 2006. Previous to this it was always a private residence. The owners who lived there the longest were Ella Mahoney, whose first husband bought the house straight from Mary Ann Booth, and Dorothy and Howard Fox. The second floor of the building currently houses the offices for the Center of Visual and Performing Arts of Harford County.
Tudor Hall, as a museum, is still in a transitional phase. The Junius Brutus Booth Society and Spirits of Tudor Hall, are working hard to get Harford County to give them more control in order to truly turn this gem into a museum dedicated to the Booth family. The guided tours are informative and done by volunteers with a passion for history.
Other than the building itself, the only other thing on the Tudor Hall property today that was there when the Booths were there is this spring house (minus the roof) which was made around the same time as Tudor Hall, and this pond, which was made by the Booths:
Tudor Hall is a must see for those interested in the illustrious Booth family. Check out their tour schedule by visiting the Spirits of Tudor Hall Facebook page and blog the former written by Edwin Booth expert and friend of BoothieBarn, Carolyn Mitchell. And please consider joining the Junius Brutus Booth Society. The more members they have and the more funds they receive, the louder their voice becomes to transform Tudor Hall into the Booth family museum it deserves to be. Visit the Junius Brutus Booth Society here.
My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone
Sketches of Tudor Hall and the Booth Family by Ella Mahoney (free online version here)