The William W. Early House was the first house in Brandywine on the National Register. Below is the history that’s on record with the National Register of Historic Places (MHT Inventory No. PG#85A-9 – see “Maryland–Prince George’s County–Brandywine”). Since this history was written, this house has had more “historic moments” – see 4 min. video of the restoration on the Home and Garden Network’s Old Homes Restored, a news feature during a county porch award, and a 7 min. film made for the 48 hr. Film Festival in 2012. This house has been used as a home office with the great office of railroad manager and the current combination livingroom/diningroom.
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, 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.
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.