History of The Perry Hall Mansion

 

The Perry Hall Mansion is one of the most historic buildings in Baltimore County.  Erected high on a hill above the Gunpowder River Valley, the mansion dominated life in northeastern Baltimore County in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries. It played a critical role in local history and the religious history of the United States.

In the early 1770s, Corbin Lee (a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and ancestor of Robert E. Lee) decided to build a new home on a 1,000-acre estate he owned in Baltimore County. Lee's mansion was to be the centerpiece of his plantation, The Adventure. He began building the mansion in 1773, but died in December of that year. Lee's childless widow sold the estate to Harry Dorsey Gough, a Baltimore merchant who had the good fortune to inherit 70,000 pounds from an English relative at an early age.

Gough named the estate Perry Hall, after a family castle near Birmingham, England. Gough completed the mansion, which became one of the leading homes in colonial society. From his 16-room home, Gough surveyed a vast plantation where dozens of slaves tended cattle, crops, and tobacco. The Perry Hall estate was so influential that maps from the early 1800s identify modern-day Belair Road as “Perry Hall Road” or “Gough's Road.”

As a young adult, Gough lived the life of a country squire, hosting boisterous parties at his home. That changed in 1775, when Gough and several friends attended a Methodist service in Baltimore. The Methodist movement swept the American colonies in the 1770s. Its direct, emotional style attracted not only slaves and backcountry families, but also members of the upper class, including Gough's wife Prudence. Gough's friends were probably more interested in poking fun at Methodism when they attended that service, but Gough was clearly moved by what he saw. Returning to the mansion, he reportedly told his wife, “I will never hinder you again from hearing the Methodists.” He rode throughout his plantation that night on horseback, stopping when he heard singing at one of the slave cabins. Here he saw the poorest in society offering thanksgiving for their blessings in life. From that moment on, Gough became an active supporter of the Methodist movement.

Between 1784 and 1800, Gough broke away from the church, although his wife remained faithful. Turning away from religious activities, Harry Dorsey Gough became more involved in Maryland politics. He served as a member of Maryland's House of Delegates from 1790 to 1793. He also distinguished himself as a planter, experimenting with new farming techniques, and served on the board of trustees for one of Baltimore's first orphanages.

Gough died on May 8, 1808. Over 2,000 people attended his funeral at the Perry Hall estate. Bishop Asbury described his departed friend as “a man much respected and beloved...his charities were as numerous as proper objects to a Christian were likely to make them.” Prudence Gough survived her husband by 14 years, dying on June 23, 1822.

The mansion was at its greatest in the early Nineteenth Century. Visitors commented on its elegant architecture and distinctive gardens. It was considered a “sister home” to Hampton House, which was owned by the Ridgely family, with whom Harry Dorsey Gough was related through marriage. The mansion expressed different elements of Harry Dorsey Gough's life. The vast wine cellars and grand hall symbolized Gough's life before his conversion to Methodism. After his conversion, Gough built a chapel near the mansion's eastern wing that brought together his family, slaves, servants, and backcountry families in regular services.

Perry Hall remained in the Gough family until 1852, when it was sold to investors who carved the plantation among families who built dozens of farms. Many of these were immigrant families from Germany, and the area became known as Germantown, a thriving village on the rural outskirts of Baltimore.

The mansion remained in private ownership for over two centuries, and by 2001, the vast estate had been whittled down to four acres.   That year, the mansion was sold to Baltimore County for future use as a museum and community center. 

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Copyright 2009 Sean Kief for The Historic Perry Hall Mansion, Inc.