Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland, above, at the site of Rich Hill in Bel Alton.

Bel Alton, MD – Rich Hill might not have been considered to have played an important part in American History had it not been for one significant event.

When John Wilkes Booth broke his leg after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln and jumping from the gallery onto the stage at Ford’s Theater following the Civil War, he came to Charles County to have his injury treated by Dr. Samuel Mudd.

Where he ended up next after skirting around Zekiah Swamp and bypassing Bryantown with fellow conspirator David Herold, was Southern sympathizer Samuel Cox’s home at Rich Hill near Bel Alton.

After spending three to four hours in a nearby swamp, the two men made their way across the Potomac River, where Booth was to meet his demise in a Virginia barn.

Thursday, Dec. 3, representatives gathered at the historic Bel Alton home to award an historic preservation grant award to Charles County.

The $6,500 grant was the largest ever awarded by Preservation Maryland.

“This just makes sense,” said Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland. The Charles County Historical Society and county officials, “have all the right pieces in place,” he added. “They’re coming to us, not for a last-minute emergency request, but they’re coming to us with a plan. This is how preservation is supposed to happen.

“The story that you have here is one that is not only important to Charles County and the people of Maryland, it’s important to the whole nation and even internationally,” Redding added. “It’s a story people all around the world want to know about.”

“Rich Hill is certainly significant for its architecture,” Maryland State Historic Preservation Officer Elizabeth Hughes noted, “but it really has much more to do with Col. Samuel Cox, who hid Booth and Herold and assisted them in crossing the Potomac River into Virginia. It also tells the story of Maryland’s complex allegiances during the Civil War.”

“American History is not always pretty,” Charles County Commissioner Vice President Ken Robinson stated. “April 15, 1865 was one of the worst days in American History. Here we will commemorate, not necessarily celebrate, what happened here. It is very important for future generations to realize this infamous trail that has been featured on the History Channel, to recognize the role Charles County plays in that story.”

Dendrochronology done on the site placed the building in a much older time frame than originally thought. It turns out the edifice was built in 1729, which not only predates the American Civil War, but the American Revolution as well.

The grant will be used to help stabilize, restore and provide interpretive resources for the site.

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com