The Montgomery County Division of Housing & Code Enforcement, a branch of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, has “condemned effective immediately” historic Montanverde, the 200-year-old George Peter home off Berryville Road near Darnestown.
A bold notice attached to Montanverde’s front door and dated September 23, 2011, states:
These premises are hereby condemned as unfit for human habitation as it does not meet the minimum requirements of the Chapter 26, Montgomery County Code. The house has been posted and ordered vacated. If anyone is found occupying these premises the owner and occupant(s) will be subject to fines. Condemned effective immediately.
Major George Peter is remembered as being the last army officer to receive his military commission directly from George Washington in a ceremony at Mt. Vernon in 1799. While later serving in the Missouri Territory, Peter is said to have fired the first saluting shot heralding the return of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery in 1806. He was later assigned to follow Aaron Burr and later testified at Burr’s trial in 1807.
After retiring from the army as a major in the artillery, Peter built Montanverde, finishing it in 1812 as a summer resort, a place to get away from the heat of downtown Washington where his influential father, Robert Peter had served as Georgetown’s first mayor.
Over the next half century, Peter made Montanverde his permanent home, serving in both the Maryland General Assembly and the U. S. Congress, representing the state’s 6th Congressional district. When he hosted 600 guests at a festive political rally in 1848, he extended a special invitation to his good friend, freshman congressman Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, to spend the night. Montanverde’s west-wing bedroom is known to this day as the Lincoln Room.
But the Civil War brought tragedy to the Peter family when their youngest son, Confederate Lieutenant Walter “Gip” Peter and his first cousin, Colonel Orton Williams, were charged with spying, quickly convicted, and hanged on June 9, 1863, near Franklin, Tennessee. Some years after the major’s death in 1861, the Peter family sold Montanverde to William Barnum, brother of circus magnate P. T. Barnum
Now this historic home is in trouble. According to a friend of one of the former tenants, the Lincoln Room “has a huge hole in the ceiling … The insulation from the attic and deteriorating ceiling materials have fallen into the bedroom.” These damages, she believes, resulted from the recent storms and hard rainfall. As of now, owner William M. Harman could not be reached for comment.
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