4811 Riverdale Road, Riverdale Park, MD 20737
301-864-0420; TTY 301-699-2544; Fax 301-927-3498
Riversdale was begun by wealthy Flemish émigré, financier and art collector, Henri Joseph Stier of Antwerp. He, his wife, and children fled the Low Countries and the armies of the French Revolutionary Republic in 1793. The Stiers lived briefly in Philadelphia and then moved to Annapolis. In 1799, Stier's younger daughter, Rosalie Eugenie, married George Calvert, a planter, state legislator, and a descendant of the Lords Baltimore - his father, Benedict Calvert, was a natural son of the fifth Lord Baltimore. George's sister, Eleanor, married George Washington's stepson, John Parke "Jacky" Custis. George and Rosalie spent part of their honeymoon with the Washingtons at Mount Vernon before settling on George's tobacco plantation in Prince George's County.
In 1800, Stier bought 729 acres near the port and spa town of Bladensburg and began construction of his new manor house. As construction began, the Stiers rented Bostwick in Bladensburg. They moved into their partially built house in 1802.
Meanwhile, conditions in Europe changed as Napoleon Bonaparte declared an amnesty for the émigrés. Mr. and Mrs. Stier and their older children returned to Antwerp, while the Calverts moved into Riversdale and completed it by 1807. The correspondence between Rosalie Calvert and her family survives and is the basis for Mistress of Riversdale: the Plantation Letters of Rosalie Stier Calvert, edited by Margaret Law Callcott (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991). These letters provide a rich source for the restoration and interpretation of the house. Mrs. Calvert never returned to Europe as she hoped to do. She died at Riversdale in 1821 at age 42 having borne nine children, five of whom lived to maturity. George Calvert did not remarry and died in 1838.
The Calverts' son, Charles Benedict Calvert, continued living at Riversdale. A "scientific" farmer, he founded the Maryland Agricultural College (now the University of Maryland, College Park) and, as a U.S. congressman, sponsored legislation establishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He died in 1864, and eventually his widow, Charlotte, went to live in Baltimore. Riversdale began to decline without a slave labor force.
In 1887, the estate was sold to developers laying out a commuter suburb of Washington, DC, that they named Riverdale Park. After serving as their headquarters, the mansion became a boardinghouse. After another short life as an elegant country club, the mansion passed into the hands of William Pickford. He modernized the house but, when he wife refused to live "out in the country," he leased it to U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson, former governor of California. In the late 1920s, U.S. Senator Thaddeus Caraway of Arkansas bought the house. Caraway died in office; his widow, Hattie, completed his term and then ran for the seat, becoming the first woman elected to the Senate. She could not afford to continue living in the house, however, so it was sold to Abraham Lafferty, a former congressman from Oregon, who lived there until the late 1940s.
In 1949, Lafferty sold the property to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. This bi-county parks, recreation, and planning agency used Riversdale for offices until it built new quarters. The house was occasionally shown to the public by the Riversdale Historical Society, who also preserved the Calvert family cemetery.
A full restoration of the house began in 1988. Following the discovery of Rosalie Calvert's letters in the family archives in Belgium, the decision was made to restore the house to its appearance during the period of Rosalie and George Calvert's occupancy, 1801-1838. Riversdale was opened to the public in 1993, and may be seen year-round on Fridays and Sundays from noon to 3:30 p.m.