Historic William W. Early House

The William W. Early House was the first house in Brandywine on the National Register. This is the history that’s on record with the National Register of Historic Places (from Wikipedia’s list of places in Prince George’s County). You can also see photos of the house here and how it currently looks here. More Early family history.

The William W. Early House is important for its architectural, transportation, and community planning themes. It is a fine example of Queen Anne style domestic architecture, distinguished by its projecting corner tower, wraparound veranda and great variety of surface detail. It is closely connected with the development of the railroad, and served as the home and office of the railroad manager. It is also connected with the planning and development of the village of Brandywine, having been built for a member of the family of William H. Early, an important landowner and developer of this railroad village. The period of significance covers approximately 40 years, from the construction of the house in 1907, to 1946 when it was sold by the builder’s son.

The William W. Early house is an elegant high-style frame dwelling in the Queen Anne style. It was built at the end of the Victorian period, by a successful and prominent businessman, in a conscious attempt to utilize the best features of a style which was already on the decline. The house resembles several plans available through mail-order pattern books in the 1890’s, but the exact pattern has not been identified. In any case, the house is one of the best examples of its type in Prince George’s County.
William W. Early was a grandson of William H. Early, a farmer and merchant who had established himself in the Brandywine area before the Civil War, and who profited by the construction of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad in the 1870’s. By the time of his death in 1890, William H. Early owned 3,000 acres including most of the land which has been platted into the lots of the village of Brandyine.1 His real estate was divided after his death among his heirs, with approximately equivalent thirds going to his son, Charles, his daughter, Margaret, and the children of his deceased son, James. William W. Early was the oldest of James’ children, and his inheritance included Lot #7 of Brandywine, a 23-acre parcel on which James Early had built his home soon after his marriage in the early 1870’s.2

Like many others in his family, William W. Early worked for the railroad, first as a conductor, then advancing to become general manager of the Southern Maryland Railroad. In 1907 he dismantled his childhood home, and began construction of what was to become the most prominent residence in Brandywine. His cousins and brothers followed his example within the year (cf. #85A-10, -28, -29), dotting the railroad-junction village with fine late Victorian dwellings, of which William W. Early’s was the most outstanding example. The west wing of the house served as his office during his management of the railroad, while the remainder of the large house was his family home. Early retired in 1917 due to poor health, and died in 1920. The house and property remained in the possession of William W. Early’s son until 1946.3

During the later 1940’s, part of the second story of the house was converted into an apartment, and the second story of the northwest porch was made into a small kitchen. In the late 1970’s, this kitchen was rebuilt with antique materials into an open porch. Subsequent owners have undertaken minor alterations in the house, e.g., closing off a doorway, and building a one-story breakfast-room addition in the northeast corner.4 Essentially all of the exterior decorative elements (novelty shingles, spindle work, acroteria, and jigsawn brackets and vergeboards) survive in good condition. The house stands on the remaining 3-1/4 acres of William W. Early’s land near the center of the village of Brandywine, an outstanding example of high-style Queen Anne domestic architecture. It is the most outstanding of the surviving dwellings of the Early family, a family which had great social and economic influence in the Brandywine community.

Recent survey work in Prince George’s County has identified seven other late Victorian dwellings constructed between 1888 and 1910, which can be compared to the William W. Early House. The closest parallels are the Lake-Wearyt House (P.G. #66-18) built in 1894, and the William C. Duley House (P.G. #82B-28) built in 1900. Both have corner towers, and wraparound verandas with spindle work frieze courses. Another close parallel is the house of Early’s cousin, William Berry Early (P.G.#85A-10), which was enlarged and Victorianized in 1910, and which incorporates some of the same (e.g., corner tower and spindle frieze veranda) decorative features, but which has lost some of its original detail. Other fine Victorian dwellings in Prince George’s County which are similar in concept but quite different in design are: the O’Dea House (P.G.#67-11) built in 1888 from a Robert W. Shoppell design, and listed on the National Register; the Kleiner-Dillon House (P.G. #67-17) also built in 1888 from a Shoppell design; the Traband House (P.G. #79-21) built circa 1895 from an Arthur F. Nicholson design and listed on the National Register; and the Smith House (P.G. #68-4a) built circa 1898 in the railroad suburb of Riverdale. With the possible exception of the Lake-Weary House, the William W. Early House is probably the best surviving example in Prince George’s County of this type of turn-of-the-century Queen Anne style domestic architecture.

1Census, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, for Prince George’s County, Brandywine District; tax assessments for Brandywine Election District; G.M. Hopkins Atlas of Prince George’s County, 1878; Prince George’s County Equity #1904; conversation with Early family members, July 1985 and February 1986.
2Prince George’s County Equity #1904
3cf. Chain of Title, Census for Prince George’s County; Prince George’s County Tax Assessments; conversation with Early family members, July 1985 and February 1986.
4Conversation with property owners from 1940’s to 1970’s, November 1987.