Md. County to Buy Uncle Tom's Cabin


The cabin, part of a private residence, will become public property.

Credit: Coakley Realty

Uncle Tom's Cabin will one day be open to the public.

The owner of an 18th-century Colonial in Bethesda, Md., listed a three-bedroom house and attached 205-year-old log cabin for sale for $995,000 in October. Josiah Henson, a slave who lived on the former tobacco plantation for 30 years, inspired the Uncle Tom character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel.

Located on a one-acre site surrounded by McMansions, the house was not protected as a local landmark, so Montgomery County officials sprung into action, raising money to match a $1 million offer. Owner Greg Mallet-Prevost, whose mother owned the house since the 1960s, accepted the county's offer on Dec. 23.

"I think it's the most exciting thing we've done in a long time," says Peggy Erickson, executive director of Heritage Montgomery, which helped the county raise money for the upcoming sale. "The house has been a very low-profile house. The people who owned it did not want any historic designation. I'd say 99 percent of the residents of Montgomery County do not know the cabin exists in the county. We're long overdue to recognize this property."

Before the sale goes through, however, the county's planning board must approve the acquisition; the board is scheduled to rule on the issue on Jan. 5. Once approved, the sale could be completed as soon as Jan. 13, according to Bill Gries, land acquisition specialist for the county.

"We're going to try to push this thing through in a matter of weeks," Gries says.

Josiah Henson (1789-1883), wrote that he once lived in a log cabin attached to the main house. "In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons," he writes in his 1849 autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Stowe's basis for her 1852 novel. "The wind whistled and the the rain and snow blew in through the crackes, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pig-sty. Such were our houses."

Henson escaped to Canada in 1830 and became an abolitionist. His house in Dresden, Ontario, is now one of Canada's historic sites.

Although the cabin is in good condition, its interior walls have been covered, so returning the building to its original appearance may take time. "It's going to take us a while to get the money to do it," Erickson says, "but it is going to be an interpretive center sometime in the future."

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