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Suitland, MD

Colonel Suit

Samuel Suit
Colonel Samuel Taylor Suit
Photo courtesy
of the Suit Family.
Colonel Samuel Taylor Suit was a Maryland businessman, entrepreneur, and agriculturalist. In 1867, he purchased some 300 acres of land just outside of Washington, DC, an estate that is now the basis for Suitland, Maryland. President of the Washington and Chesapeake and Washington City and Point Lookout Railroads, Col. Suit made his fortune from marketing whiskey in little brown jugs. His honorary title, "colonel," seems to have been awarded during a stint at a Louisville, Kentucky distillery where he worked for a time as a young man. Col. Suit operated his own distillery, near the present site of the Census Bureau, and was responsible for building Suitland Road (one of the boundaries of the current Federal Center) as a shorter route to Washington.

The Suit estate came to be known as Home Place, and later Suitland, and was the scene of extensive entertainment. Among the guests at the estate were Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1871, the five British and five American members of the Joint High Commission, meeting in Washington to settle the Alabama Claims (The U.S. insisted that Britain pay for damages inflicted on Northern shipping by the British-built Confederate cruiser Alabama), as well as other dignitaries and friends of Col. Suit, were entertained at Suitland with a banquet at which the U.S. Marine Corps Band furnished the music.

Col. Suit was a Maryland state senator from 1873-1877. He served as one of the judges of agriculture at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. While in Philadelphia, he learned that his Suitland mansion had been completely destroyed by fire; it was never rebuilt. In 1878, Suit filed for bankruptcy.

Col. Suit recovered from these setbacks, regaining the "Suitland" estate and other properties in the District of Columbia and Prince George's County, Maryland. The Washington Post, in an article dated April 24, 1879 referred to Col. Suit as "the greatest orchard owner in the neighborhood," whose "magnificent fruit farm" at Suitland was full of spring blossoms.

Divorced from his second wife, Aurelia, in 1879, Col. Suit began courting a young woman named Rosa Pelham, the daughter of an Alabama congressman, whom he likely met at the health spa in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. He finally persuaded her to marry him when he pledged to build her a castle as a summer cottage. She was 22 when they married in 1883; he was 51.

Berkely Springs Castle
Berkeley Springs Castle.
Photo courtesy of
Travel Berkeley Springs.
The castle, a half-scale version of Berkeley Castle in England, was built on a hilltop in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. It was based on designs drawn by Alfred Mullett, the architect of the mints in Carson City and San Francisco, and of the State, War and Navy Building (now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building), next to the White House in Washington, DC. The castle took three years to finish, at a cost of $100,000. Suit died in 1888 before the castle was completed; however, he stipulated that his young widow had to complete the project before she could inherit his fortune. Widow Suit, used to hosting lavish parties at the castle, had to sell off the "Suitland" property in 1902 to pay her many debts. The sale of the castle followed in 1913.

During the first half of the 20th century, the castle passed through many hands and was used at times for events such as dances, antiques fairs, and summer camp. It is currently a private residence. The building is dominated by the three-story tower, and the roof is trimmed with battlements. There are 13 interior rooms and a basement "dungeon." West Virginia Route 9 now cuts through the castle property; a stone gate tower built by Rosa Suit in 1893 is stranded on the opposite side of the highway.

According to The Washington Post, William A Harrison paid about $13,000 for a portion of Suit's Maryland estate in 1903. The property was ultimately subdivided and, for the most part, sold off. Despite this, Arthur B. Suit, son of Samuel and Aurelia, held onto a small parcel of land near the corner of Suitland and Silver Hill Roads.

The younger Suit was an avid sportsman. He maintained a store, bar, and bowling alley nearby. He also participated in such local events as horse races, cockfights, and jousts. As sheriff of the small town, Suit also built a one-room jail near his house.

The Washington Post reported on several cockfights between birds raised by Mr. Suit and various challengers in the early 1890s. A June 1890 match in which Mr. Suit's brown-red Jim Busev beat Matt Allen's Japanese Heavyweight was dubbed "the greatest single shake-bag cock fight that has ever taken place in this country." Between 100 and 300 spectators were present at the various events and Mr. Suit, in a call to the Post's sports editor in November of 1891, said he was willing to bet $3,000 (three times the average annual wage at the time) against any challenger. Suitland in the 1890's was also the site of dogfights, and annual jousting, or "tilting," tournaments, an earlier version of today's Renaissance Fairs. These tournaments drew 5,000 spectators, who also witnessed the crowning of the "Queen of Love and Beauty."

[Thanks to Darlie Norton and her A History of Suitland, Maryland, 1967-1976 for much of the information about the early days of Suitland.]

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 08, 2021