Raven’s Crest is a 173 acre working farm with a farmhouse overlooking the Potomac river on a cliff just south of Washington DC. The house is perfect for small corporate meetings up to 15 people. The training room is the original parlor built in the 1840’s and features leather sofas, raised desks and a pull down projector screen hidden behind the hand hewn beams. This is no hotel conference room and the creativity and open ideas you get from relaxed employees in a country home will reflect it. The house also features a custom kitchen with dual refrigerators, commercial double oven and range and even a plate warming shelf. Two additional living areas as well as the dining room overlooking the Potomac River are perfect for break out sessions or relaxing with a glass of wine after sessions. Four bedrooms (two with ensuite bathrooms) are available for an additional fee.
Raven’s Crest is not just a meeting place. It was purchased to preserve farmland. Your rental helps that goal and you will have the opportunity to learn about the history of the farmhouse and farm, the farm operations, and enjoy all the fresh-air benefits of a farm. Thank you for caring to preserve open space.
Learn a bit about the history of Ravens Crest below.
Ravens Crest History
Ravens Crest is a 173-acre working farm growing hay, soybeans, corn, wheat and straw. The structure was built in approximately 1840 with the final addition added in approximately 1890. The smokehouse and crib barn were also likely built around 1890.
The earliest recorded deed referring to Ravens Crest dates to November 1, 1842 when Peter M. Crain, trustee of the estate of Walter Latimer, conveyed 565 acres to Johannes D. Starke for $2600. It is assumed that Walter Latimer erected the original block prior to the 1842 transaction.
From 1858 to 1863, Thomas Jones, and agent for the South during the Confederate war, lived at Ravens Crest. The high bluff and view of the Potomac offered a perfect spot for monitoring activity on the Potomac. Between Thomas Jones and two other neighboring farms, hundreds of letters, medicine and supplies for the Confederacy were transported across the Potomac. It is presumed, although there is not a deed to support it, that Jones owned Ravens Crest during the time he lived there. It is likely he lost possession when he was arrested in the midst of the war and imprisoned for six months in Washington, DC.
On November 2, 1863, George A. Huntt, Sheriff of Charles County, sold approximately 540 acres to Mary K. Somerville after the death of Johannes Starke. A structure is shown in the location of Ravens Crest on Martenet’s 1865 Atlas of Charles County, Maryland.
Shortly after Jones was released from prison his wife died, and he moved to Huckleberry, about two miles away on Popes Creek Road, with his children. On Easter Sunday, 1865, he met with Samuel Cox at Rich Hill, four miles away. Cox told him John Wilkes Booth, who had recently shot President Lincoln, and David Herold were hiding nearby and needed help crossing the Potomac. Jones brought food and newspapers to them each day, waiting for a good time to move them across the river. Jones’ small boat was hidden in a small stream in Dent’s Meadow for them.
While they were in hiding and waiting, Jones visited the local tavern at Brawner Hotel in Port Tobacco. While there, a Union Captain, William Williams, told Jones he would give $100,000 for information that would lead to Booth’s capture. He did not turn Booth in.
When he heard that Union soldiers looking for Booth were heading to St. Mary’s County to look for him, Jones took the opportunity and after giving them food, escorted them to the boat and showed them the direction to get to Machodoc Creek in Virginia where Mrs. Quesenberry was to meet them and provide shelter. They lost their way in the fog on the river though and landed in Nanjemoy Creek, still in Maryland. They were able to cross the Potomac the following night though successfully.
On April 14, 1888, the heirs of Mary K. Somerville conveyed 300 acres to James A. Chapman, who presumably added the 1890 block and Greek Revival detailing to the original dwelling, as well as erected the smokehouse and crib barn. James A. Chapman retained ownership throughout the rest of the nineteenth century as the chain of title is lost until 1916. On December 26, 1916, Harris and Edith Bucklin conveyed five tracts of land, including Ravens Crest, to Perry Garst of Washington, DC who in turn, conveyed 466 acres to Elizabeth Garst Wilmer on January 19, 1917, as a wedding present. Of note is, that the land was conveyed to Elizabeth only and not her husband. Admiral Garst implemented several changes to the house, installing the gracious “officer-grade” main stair way and adding a Delco plant for electricity through-out the house.
Over the years there was an interest only mortgage of $6000 at 10%. During the long depression years, the $600 yearly payment of this loan caused much stress to the Wilmer family because they would lose the farm if the $600 cash payment couldn’t be met. It is a testament to the family’s fortitude and love of the land, that it remained in their procession for 100 years. Bruce Wilmer was known for his strong advocacy in conservation, and as a Conservation Officer he would use Ravens Crest’s high bluff over the Potomac to shoot at oyster poachers! It’s interesting to note that they would shoot back.
Elizabeth Garst Wilmer was born in 1888 and died in 1978 and was the daughter of Perry Garst (1848-1939) and Elizabeth Quakenbush Garst (1855-1914). Her father was a Rear Admiral in the US Navy. Though they had an affluent lifestyle, Elizabeth was not influenced by the trends of her day. An example of this was, when offered to have a “coming out” party during the debutant season she chose instead to have a horse! When she married, this city-bred lady had to learn to cope with the rigors of farm life. She became known for her excellent cooking, regularly preparing Sunday dinner for her husband’s large family. Though she had poor eyesight she was a meticulous seamstress sewing garments for her girls.
Bruce M. Wilmer, Elizabeth’s husband, was born in 1883, attended public school until he was 14 years old and then worked on his father’s farm until 1903. He took a consolidated course in agriculture at Cornell University of Ithaca, NY. Before his marriage he ran his own business with an office in Washington, DC., sourcing and selling railroad timber. He was known for his loyalty to his siblings and as the oldest, aided in funding their education. His brother Joe, became a State Senator.
A republican, Bruce Wilmer was elected to the MD, House of Delegates as one of the youngest representatives to have served at that time and it is believed he met Miss Garst while serving in Annapolis. When they married, Mr. Wilmer decreased his timber business to farm full time. The timber sourcing business entailed extensive traveling and he did not want his wife to be alone at the isolated farm.
It has been told that his expectation was to be a gentleman farmer, hiring others to work the farm. The depression and other challenges resulted in giving up that idea and actually working the farm himself with his family. He implemented cutting edge agricultural techniques like planting 3 crops at a time that would mature consecutively along with raising and selling lespedeza seed. This was an important cash crop. As young unattached women, daughters, Rebekah and Elizabeth recall selling orders for the seed door to door. Many of the Southern Maryland landed gentry viewed this as beneath them while others respected their hard work and purchased the seed. Bruce Wilmer remembered who treated them graciously and who did not. He died in 1957.
Elizabeth and Bruce Wilmer had seven children – Lemuel Wilmer (unknown birth-1931), Bruce Mathews Wilmer, Jr. (1918-1969), Cynthia Quakenbush Wilmer (1921-2009), Rebekah M. Wilmer Jarboe (1925-2020), Elizabeth Wilmer (Dec 1919 – Feb 1920), Elizabeth Wilmer (1928-2017), and Perry Garst Wilmer (who died as an infant in 1926).
A story told to Brianna Bowling by one of the Wilmer children was, that although Bruce Wilmer struggled as a farmer, he was well respected as a person to mediate disputes and for his advice – often acting as an unofficial judge. He was respected for his keen wit and judgement. It was common then, that the wife of a farmer would feed the help in the morning before work. As his wife was a lady, unaccustomed to feeding hired help and because she had health issues, Bruce was the one to rise early, prepare the breakfast and then sneak out to come in with the help, exclaiming how wonderful the breakfast that Elizabeth had prepared. There was obvious love in their relationship!
Elizabeth and her husband, Bruce M. Wilmer granted 315 acres of land that included Ravens Crest to their daughter Cynthia Q. Wilmer, on September 18, 1951, except for 151 acres conveyed to Fred Keech Turner on October 10, 1946.
Cynthia Wilmer was a well-loved school teacher in Charles County who never married. Upon her death, she conveyed Ravens Crest to her two sisters – Elizabeth and Rebekah — who divided the land into two parcels. Upon Elizabeth’s death, her daughter, also named Elizabeth, inherited the parcel that included the house and land on the Potomac side of the gravel road and she sold the property to Dan and Brianna Bowling. Upon Rebekah’s death, her children sold the remaining parcel on the other side of the gravel road to Dan and Brianna and the farm was whole again.
Ravens Crest and the surrounding land is situated on a fossil rich area. In 1996, the Smithsonian collected a sperm whale skeleton from the cliffs. Large portions of the skull and lower jaws were present as well as 30 vertebrae and 62 teeth. At the time it was the oldest sperm whale from the Maryland Miocene and the only one with significant portions of the vertebral column. Unlike modern sperm whales, this whale had enamel crowns and this was the first time the Smithsonian had found that type of tooth associated with a skull. They also found 21 extinct tiger shark teeth around the sperm whale and it was speculated that it was likely from one individual shark.