by Karen Griffith, HEC Board member
For many years I have done genealogical research on my own family as well as other people. It can be quite challenging, but I love to solve mysteries. Oakdale is listed as HO2 in the Maryland Historical Trust inventory registry with 188 pages of information to get started and learn about many of the people who lived and worked there. During our tenancy at Oakdale for the Showhouse (May 13-June 5, 2022), “The Warfield History Room” came alive in the former laundry room on the second floor with family photos, Howard County maps, books, farm tools, and facsimile letters from the Warfields to Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain.
I learned from the picture of the former slave reunion that the white clapboard building called “The Old Quarters” kitchen and laundry area was located in the place where the carport now stands. It had been used for many years but became weatherworn and then was torn down.
I consulted Census Records, the Find-a-Grave website, Proquest news articles, Family Search (free site from ancestry.com), the Howard County Historical Society archives, Maryland Historical Trust Inventory of Historic Properties and other sources.
The Warfield name is prominent in Howard County history. Edwin Warfield was born in 1848 and in 1904 was elected the 45th governor of Maryland for one term. Edwin’s great grandfather, Captain Benjamin Warfield built Cherry Grove, Maryland Historical Trust HO 1, which is now privately owned and located close to Oakdale. He was a tobacco planter who owned slaves to plant and harvest the crops. Later tobacco was replaced by cereal crops which were better for the soil and meant that fewer slaves were needed to work the fields. The Warfield family graveyard is located on Jennings Chapel Rd. behind this house.
Edwin was one of nine children; two of his older brothers joined the Confederate Army. Both were taken prisoners. Albert was sent to Point Lookout in southern Maryland and survived, but Gassaway who was captured in battle, tried to escape but caught fever in a prison camp at Camp Chase, Ohio and died at just 18 years of age.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, the fortunes of the family were greatly reduced which meant that Edwin did not go to college but did become a teacher while he studied for the law. He became the Register of Wills of Howard County, director of the Patapsco National Bank, was appointed Surveyor of the Port of Baltimore, owned and edited the Ellicott City Times, acquired the Maryland Law Review, later The Daily Record, and founded the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Baltimore, a bonding and surety company.
In 1886, Edwin married Emma Nicodemus with whom he had four children.
In 1891 he moved to the 265 acre estate, Oakdale, where his mother had a life tenancy. Edwin added many things including the impressive porches to the front of the house. He was host to a reunion of the soldiers of Company A, First Maryland Cavalry, CSA on June 10th, 1899.
On August 16th, 1902, he invited the former slaves who had lived and worked on the land and in the house for a get together. Fourteen were able to attend that day with many bringing their family members.
He returned to Oakdale after living in Annapolis as governor but died at 71 in Baltimore on March 31st, 1920.
My research was not just focused on the Warfields and the house. There were so many other local properties which had connections to Oakdale. I was especially interested to know more about the outbuildings. Apparently, some were moved across the road after 1900. Where were the former slaves buried, possibly on the Cherry Grove land?
On May 11, 2022, Marty Bass of WJZ TV in Baltimore visited Oakdale taking a tour of the house where he interviewed HEC, Inc. President Connie Siegel and several of the designers. Thanks to this publicity, several members of the Harriday family visited during the showhouse and brought family histories to share. Isaiah Harriday, whose ancestors were once enslaved, was Governor Warfield’ s chauffeur. Other members of the Harriday family contacted us and were able to visit too.
Several Warfield family members also came to the house with stories and photographs. Their friends reminisced about their times at Oakdale, sleepovers, riding horses all over the land, and the clay tennis court which was near where the pool area is today.
Stephanie Gilbert has written about her great, great grandfather, Oliver Kelly, a slave who at 16 ran away from Walnut Grove (HO18) the plantation owned by Dr. William Watkins who was related to Edwin Warfield’s mother. On August 20, 1848 Kelly attended a Methodist Camp Meeting near the area now known as Mt. View Middle School on Rt 99. During that meeting, he and other slaves were able to sneak away and make their escape. They took a route past Westminster then escaped to Philadelphia, but had to keep going to avoid capture and be forced to return to their owner. Kelly continued north and eventually found his way to Lee, New Hampshire where he learned to read and write. He married, had a family then became a lecturer and musician. Many years later he returned to Oakdale as a free man now named Oliver Cromwell Gilbert. He and Edwin sat down together and spoke for hours and after that corresponded frequently. Recently Ms. Gilbert has discovered that she and Edwin Warfield share DNA.
These descendants brought everything to life and it was fascinating to put it all together. Although I had worked in the Museum of Howard County History for six years and volunteered with HEC, Inc. for several showhouses, this was my first time researching for such a large project. People’s reactions were extremely positive and I hope that we will do a similar history room in future houses. Wherever you reside you will learn that the land has a story, and the people connected in some fashion have tales to tell.