From US Route 1 in Riverdale Park, the seems a wooded oasis, marked off by "no trespassing" signs and a tall, locked gate. Beyond the sign, things look a little different.
The ground within is littered with old appliances, broken televisions, and refuse of all kinds. Brambles and thickets threaten to ensnare anyone willing to pass the signs threatening prosecution—not to mention concrete slabs from the post-war Calvert Homes project and the ruins of the 1860s McAlpine Mansion.
It’s that mansion—once owned by descendants of the Calverts of Riversdale—that has sparked the interest of local historians, including Riversdale House Museum Director Edward Day and Prince George’s Heritage Vice Chair Mike Arnold.
The Ice House
A phase 1 archeology study on the property identified several sites of potential archaeological interest, according to Jennifer Stabler, a staff archaeologist with M-NCPPC. They include the ruins of the mansion itself and those of associated outbuildings—an ice house, a meat house, and a brick barn.
The ice house is of particular interest to Day. Before modern refrigeration, people would use this type of building to store perishable food, cutting large blocks of ice from lakes made specifically for the purpose and placing them underneath the structure to generate a chill.
“Because it’s associated with food, you get artifacts—broken plates, bits of glass, things like that,” Day said.
The roof of the ice house has caved in, but the structure itself is still there. Day said he’d like to see the buildling stay on the property and be restored and incorporated into the new development in some kind of park.
“It would be nice to have an ode to the past there,” said Day.
Chip Reed, an attorney for the Cafritz family, said he's not certain if the ice house would be preserved or restored but that it's a possibility.
"We'll seek the best way to memorialize that after getting the [archaeological] assessment," Reed said.
Riversdale Boundary Marker
There are no registered historical sites on the property, Arnold said, but an original Riversdale granite boundary marker has been found completely intact near the ruins of the McAlpine Mansion.
“That marker is definitely one of the original markers,” said Arnold. “That would make a nice gift to the town of Riverdale, or the historical society.”
Reed said he thinks a donation of this kind is likely.
"I think that would be very interesting to my client and I think they would look forward to doing that," said Reed.
Day said Riversdale aready has a few of these granite markers and would be happy to add another to their collection.
The Future of the Property
If things go as the developers hope, all of the garbage and debris on the property will be cleared away in the coming months to make way for a 30,000 square-foot Whole Foods Market, 900-plus residential units, a hotel, a fitness center, and other upscale stores and restaurants.
The artifacts on the tract belong to the property owners, said Jennifer Stabler, Archaeology Planner Coordinator with M-NCPPC. While they would be required to document any artifacts located as part of the archeology studies, they are not required to donate them.
However, both Day and Arnold are hopeful that the developer will be generous with any relics found on their property.
"It would be a tragedy to see them all get discarded because of malicious purpose or because of being sloppy," said Arnold.
Reed said the family is looking forward to working with the town and local residents on this issues as the project moves forward.