Marshall Hall Went From Private Estate to Amusement Park to Ruins

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Doalfe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: Doalfe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Marshall Hall was once one of the most valuable properties in Maryland thanks to its prime location on the Potomac right across from Mount Vernon. That still wasn’t enough to stop the property from falling into disrepair.

‘The Mistake’ of Marshall Hall

The remains of the burnt down Marshall Hall
Marshall Hall was once one of the largest brick homes in Charles County, Maryland and then became the site of an amusement park. (Photo Credit: F Delventhal / Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
The brick remains of Marshall Hall
After Marshall Hall was abandoned completely, it experienced a fire caused by arson. (Photo Credit: F Delventhal / Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

When Marshall Hall was constructed in 1752 in Charles County, Maryland, it was built with one major flaw. During the surveying process, the tidewater of the Potomac River, which the property faces, was not taken into account and the mansion was built inside that parameter. Thanks to that oversight, its builder and owner, Thomas Marshall, named the estate “Mistake.” Despite the humorous moniker, Marshall Hall was once the ninth most valuable property in Maryland.

Marshall gained his wealth thanks to a tobacco plantation he had on his property, which was built and maintained by enslaved people. When he died, this wealth was passed on to the next generation. Unfortunately, they no longer appreciated the humor behind the estate’s name, and instead renamed the property “Marshall Hall” in 1818, in the romantic tradition of Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott.

The Private residence becomes commercialized

The outhouse and remains of Marshall Hall
An outhouse called the “Doctor’s Quarters” is located right beside Marshall Hall and is the only other structure standing on the site. (Photo Credit: F Delventhal / Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
The outhouse and the remains of Marshall Hall enclosed by a fence
The amusement park that once resided on the property is no longer standing. (Photo Credit: F Delventhal / Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

In the 1880s, entrepreneurs Levi Lowell Blake and Joseph Chamber McKibbon started the Mount Vernon and Marshall Hall Steamboat Company. They had earned the right to transport passengers between the two estates and purchased Marshall Hall with their steamboat investment.

The businessmen turned the property into a tourist attraction and pleasure resort with the addition of croquet greens, a pavilion, arcades, and jousting – which was the Maryland state sport. Blake and McKinnon essentially converted the property into a small Victorian amusement park.

Marshall Hall featured lots of attractions

entrance to the park
The entrance to the park (Photo Credit: NPS / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
the rollercoaster
A view of the rollercoaster (Photo Credit: NPS / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
entrance to the park
The entrance to the park (Photo Credit: NPS / Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Over the years, the Marshall Hall Amusement Park cycled through different owners, with each new one offering new additions to the park. In the early 1900s, gambling buildings and snack bars were added as more adult-oriented attractions.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the park saw the demolition of many of the Civil War-era buildings on the site to make way for new attractions. These included an ice rink, swimming pool, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, shooting gallery, fun house, haunted house, bumper cars, sky lift, and the main attraction, a roller coaster.

The once-great Marshall Hall eventually closed

A small white building
The outhouse is the only other building that remains on the property where Marshall Hall existed. (Photo Credit: F Delventhal / Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Marshall Hall Amusement Park experienced years of prosperity, with thousands of visitors waiting to board one of the Wilson Line steamboats and begin a day full of fun. Attendance was especially high on the Fourth of July, when there would be a full fireworks display in celebration.

In 1977, a severe windstorm caused the park’s main attraction, the roller coaster, to blow over. Upon a request from the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, Congress mandated that the National Park Service take control of the park and return it to “something resembling the days when George Washington sat on his colonnaded porch and looked across the Potomac.”

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All that stands on the site now is the shell of the original Marshall Hall, which experienced a serious fire caused by arson, and a neighboring outhouse.