Just off Route 97 in Brookeville, Maryland, stands an 18th Century home, lovingly restored by Sandy and Duane Heiler, that served as America’s capital for about 18 hours in late August 1814.
Invading Maryland from ships in the Chesapeake Bay, British troops routed the Maryland militia in the somewhat embarrassing Battle of Bladensburg, then put Washington, D.C. to the torch. President James Madison, who rode to Bladensburg to watch the battle, narrowly escaped capture by fleeing across the Potomac. He spent forty-eight hours on the lam, coming to rest nowhere.
Receiving word that the British had withdrawn to pursue an attack on Baltimore, the president rode up the post road from Washington to Brookeville, a settlement of prosperous Quakers. Many other refugees were huddled in Brookeville’s houses.
After being turned away at a home that was already at capacity, Madison spent the night in the home of Caleb Bentley, a silver engraver and watchmaker. A few feet from the house stood the post office, the closest thing to a federal facility in Brookeville. Madison slept in a bed for the first night in several.
For that night, with the nation’s public buildings smoldering in Washington, tiny Brookeville served as the nation’s capital.
The Heilers’ restoration of the house has been meticulous. Though some additions and adjustments were made to the building in the 1840s, the 18th century residence that Madison experienced can be felt in every room. The Washington Post recognized their effort as producing the finest historic home in the region.
The Heilers are organizing archaeological explorations of their historic property, while Brookeville is planning bicentennial observations for August 2014. We are all in the Heilers’ debt for preserving this lovely piece of history.