Want Water, or Lyles House, was constructed c. 1706 by the Addison family, an influential Protestant family in the Catholic colony of Maryland. During the last decades of the eighteenth century, it was occupied by William Lyles, a close friend of George Washington. It was allowed to fall into disrepair during the twentieth century and ultimately collapsed, probably sometime during the 1970s. Thus was destroyed of one of Broad Creek’s greatest historical assets. In 1998, the ruins -- the gambrel ends and two brick chimneys -- were stabilized by the National Park Service.
Backstory and Context
The Protestant Association’s rebellion against proprietary government replayed – and appealed to the legitimacy of – the Glorious Revolution. Responding to the political crises that had plagued Maryland, the British government revoked the proprietorship of the Lords Baltimore, as it had canceled the Virginia Company’s charter in 1622, and Maryland became a Crown Colony, administered by a governor responsible to the English monarch. Over the next century, the intellectual, political, and economic currents of the Atlantic World would continue to shape life in Maryland and at Broad Creek, in the emergence of a tobacco-based economy, the importation of Africans as slaves, and exchange of political ideas about liberty and tyranny.
The Protestant Association’s John Addison was a community leader on the Charles County frontier; he served the Council of Maryland (1692-93), as the judge of Charles County, and as the captain of the Charles County militia. In 1695, Prince George’s County was created out of portions of Charles and Calvert Counties, including John Addison’s property, and Colonel Addison became the militia leader in the new county. In 1706, Addison’s son Thomas patented a tract of land on the northwest boundary of Battersea, which he called Want Water. The property added to the Addisons’ considerable land holdings, which included nearby Batchelor’s Harbor and their manor house three miles to the north. Prince George’s County historian Susan Pearl speculates that the Want Water structure, now in ruins, was constructed during Thomas’ ownership of the property, though archaeological work is required to bear out this claim.
In 1736, John Addison, the eldest son of Thomas Addison, sold the 35-acre property at Want Water to a shipbuilder named Humphrey Batts, who was married to Mary Tyler, the daughter of the elder William Tyler. Batts built or completed the house at Want Water and began building ships on the property. In 1746, he advertised for sale “a new Schooner, of about 36 tons, well built for the West-India or Coasting-Trade.” During the middle of the eighteenth century, the growing commercial port at Broad Creek was a node in the circuits of an Atlantic economy -- the famous “triangle trade” that connected Africa, Europe, and the Americas -- and also engaged in some global trade, thanks to ships of the British East India Company that brought goods from India and China. Batts and his neighbors at Broad Creek actively participated in these networks, growing and selling tobacco, constructing ships, buying goods and African slaves. Batts purchased slaves, probably from West Africa, and sold ships that traveled to the West Indies, or perhaps even Europe and Africa.
When Humphrey Batts died in 1757, his son-in-law Richard Barnes inherited his Want Water house, warehouse, storehouse (built c. 1749), and thirty-five acres of land. Barnes sold the house in 1761 to a local merchant named Enoch Magruder. By about 1760, Magruder had built a house on the corner of the original Battersea property at Slash Creek. In 1763, he moved into Want Water, but maintained another residence at Norway, farther east in Prince George’s County, which he had inherited from his parents. Over the course of the 1760s, he also acquired land around Broad Creek and 100 acres of property on the west side of the Battersea plot, which overlapped with the town of Broad Creek. During a survey of the property, he discovered that the Want Water plot was smaller than the 35 acres that his deed claimed, but also discovered a twenty-acre plot of unpatented land, which he acquired and called Want Water Enlarged. The county inventories of Magruder’s property, 1786-87, reflect the transformation of Broad Creek since the late seventeenth century; the planter and landowner possessed an extensive collection of fine furniture, carpet, dining ware, and other goods made available through the Atlantic trade.
Enoch Magruder’s daughter Sarah married Colonel William Lyles c. 1779 and moved into the house at Want Water. Colonel Lyles was a friend of George Washington, who lived a short distance downriver at Mount Vernon, and legend has it that George Washington traveled up the Potomac from Mount Vernon on a barge rowed by slaves. Whether or not Washington visited the red-brick house at Harmony Hall cannot be determined with absolute certainty, but he was an occasional parishioner at St. John’s Church and developed social relationships with several residents of Broad Creek.Locating conclusive evidence of George Washington at Harmony Hall would certainly enrich the national significance of the property, opening a clearer path toward restoration. Still, there is strong historical evidence of Washington’s presence at Broad Creek, which itself helps establish the place of Broad Creek in the social and cultural networks of the Potomac River.
The Magruder-Lyles family continued plantation-style production at Broad Creek and their other properties during the early nineteenth century. Sarah Magruder Lyles raised her family in the house at Want Water, and the family may have simultaneously occupied Harmony Hall. Sarah’s brother Dennis spent much of his time at the family plantation at Norway plantation. Using a straw deed to circumvent restrictions governing exchanges of property between spouses, Sarah’s husband, William Lyles, transferred his wife’s property – around 100 acres – to himself in 1795. When he died, William left his Want Water house and some of his Battersea acreage to his son Thomas C. Lyles (who acquired more than 100 additional acres of land and marsh at Broad Creek) and Harmony Hall to his son, Dennis Magruder Lyles, who died in 1828. Dennis and his four children – Sarah, Eliza, William, and Henrietta, who all died during a five-month period in 1826 – were buried in a small graveyard near the Potomac River south of Broad Creek on his property called Tent Landing. Their remains were exhumed by a developer and reinterred at St. John’s Church cemetery in 2002. There, Lyles rejoined his first wife Eliza W. Seaton Lyles, whom he married in 1817. As a consequence of the failed development by a company called Flordia on the Potomac, local preservationists and residents worried about the disruption of hallowed remains and the possible destruction of important archaeological evidence at Tent Landing.After the deaths of Dennis Magruder in 1828 and Thomas Lyles in 1845, Harmony Hall and Want Water were occupied intermittently by sojourners and renters who failed to establish permanent roots or relationships. The arrival of a young man named Robert Stein, who came to the United States from Germany in 1875, at Broad Creek, brought a new era of transformation and prosperity to Broad Creek, where a new community called Silesia took root.
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Floyd, Bianca P. Records & Recollections: Early Black History in Prince George’s County, Maryland. M-NCPPC, 1989.
Reed, Charles V. "History of Harmony Hall." National Park Service (unpublished), 2010.