Jogging in Levittown, Maryland: Belair Mansion

I work technically from home, but 24-hr restaurants at night and coffee shops during the day help me when I lose focus at home.  So I’ve been working nights at a 24-hour restaurant in Bowie, MD, (as I’m tired of working at Waffle House in Annapolis) and jogging in the morning nearby.  This is so-called “Levittown Bowie,” a suburb that was built by the (in)famous Levitt and Sons starting in 1961 and ending in 1978.

The tract houses are on decent-sized lots and have 2 to 3 bathrooms and 3 to 4 bedrooms originally, depending on the floorplan.  Almost all had garages originally: carports were rare.  And some had two car garages even in the 1960s houses.  They all have dedicated laundry.utility rooms, and most have two living areas, while some have two living areas and a “flex room” that can either be an office or a bedroom.  None have basements.

One of my favorite things about the neighborhoods is seeing how the houses have been added onto over the years.  The basic strategies are generally these:

  • Build into the garage.
  • Enclose and condition a front porch.
  • Add a sunroom in back…and make it four-seasons.
  • Add another story above a single-story section, usually the garage or back addition.
  • Add on into the setback on the sides.

None of the houses were tiny to begin with.  I think the smallest was around 1500 square feet, with most in the 2000s.  With additions, a few of the houses tip into the 4000 square foot range, though most are in the 2000s to 3000s still.

The most thoroughly annoying thing about Levittown Bowie is, I believe, the street names.  Each area has all the street names bearing the same letter:  the K section, the S section, the B section, etc.  Other than that, I take issue with how far back the houses are placed on the lots.  The lots are, again, nice sized, but the houses have a big setback, which means that the house is basically in the middle of the lot, front to back.  This is a waste of valuable backyard space to me–and apparently to many of the other residents, too, because many of them create front yard oasis or recreational areas in response to the rather scanty backyards!

One of the coolest things about this part of Bowie was that Levitt and Sons were required to preserved Belair Mansion and its stables as a museum as part of the deal for the land.  Belair was one of the great plantations of Prince George’s County before the Civil War, and it continued to be occupied (and added onto!) into the 1930s.  I jogged around it and enjoyed taking pictures as I went.

The old sweeping drive was paved for visitors, and the terraced lawn in back, with views that opened out to either side, was also preserved, but nothing is known of the gardens except that there used to be some fairly formal, structural gardens at one point, which are completely lost now.  The city put in a small formal-ish garden on one side that’s quite pretty and low maintenance to inexpensively call to mind what might have once been.

The approach from the street.  There are suburban houses on all sides!  The center part is original, and there was a semi-detached kitchen on the left side originally, but it looked quite different and was only one story tall.  The full wings are early 20th-century additions, but the match for the brick is excellent.

belair mansion front

The rear view from the terraced lawn.  Belair Mansion is a typical center-hall colonial plantation house, with a reception hall in front and the stair hall in a vestibule in the back.  It’s old enough that when it was built, there were no such thing as dedicated “dining rooms” or “living rooms,” as such, in the houses of the wealthy.  Tables were set up temporarily for meals and then folded away after.

belair mansion rear

This is the “formal garden” on the side of the house–left side from the front view.

formal gardenA close up of one of the beds.

"formal" garden

The right side was completely taken over with invasives, including tree-of-heaven and English ivy.  🙁

invasive species

Nearby were the stables.  It was so early in the morning that I couldn’t get a good picture!

Belair stables