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img54 copyBeautiful Mount Aventine Manor
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The Friends of Chapman State Park welcome you to Chapman State Park’s unspoiled 2200 acres and to its 1840 antebellum manor house, Mount Aventine. The park was acquired by the State of Maryland in 1998 and is managed by the Maryland Park Service.   Our Friends organization is proud to help develop the Park and to introduce this little known gem to the broader public. 

img56 copy     Sweeping Potomac ViewsPeople with a special love for Chapman State Park's rich environment and historic antebellum manor house have joined together through the Friends of Chapman State Park, a not-for-profit volunteer organization affiliated with the Maryland Park Service.  We support the Park by hosting a variety of programs at Mount Aventine, the historic manor house; by sponsoring nature walks and other environmental interpretation activities, and by assisting with improving and maintaining the Park and manor house in a range of ways.  We also support a program to remove invasive species from the Park.  Please join us. We will welcome you!  Read more below to join, make a donation, or become a patron of the Friends of Chapman State Park.

We hope to see you at one of our Open House or riverfront events or on one of our trails at the Park sometime soon!


 

Tribute to Countess Margit Bessenyey

Countess Margit Bessenyey and Brownie

IN MEMORY OF MARGIT

It is the greatest honor and privilege to be here at the Daly Mansion to remember COUNTESS MARGIT SIGRAY BESSENYEY. First of all, I wish to recognize Count Francis Bessenyey and to thank him greatly for making this event possible. Also, I would like to especially thank the wonderfully dedicated volunteers of the Marcus Daly Mansion. To be standing to the right of the Daly Mansion next to the Mansion pool is a most fitting setting for this talk.

It was in l954 that my eight-and-a-half--year-old brother Otto and I (then six years old) first came to this pool--invited by the gracious COUNTESS. Our first day at the Daly Mansion pool was bright and sunny. The weather was perfect, with blue skies and puffy white clouds and a cool soft breeze.

My mother, Countess Gabrielle Szirmay Szechenyi, and my brother Otto opened the small white gate, leading to the pool. My mother closed it securely and we entered the patio around the pool.

We placed our towels on the warm cement and tested the water. It was very inviting. Otto dove right in. Then I went in carefully--descending the ladder. The water was divine. It was crystal clear, very cold, and extremely well worth the descent from the ladder. We quickly got accustomed to swimming, diving, and playing with the water toys Margit had given us. She also gave us our first cowboy hats--which we were wearing when we entered the pool gate. They were red. We didn't want to leave the pool, but the weather was getting cooler and the sun was settling. We returned to the little guest house where we changed for dinner. My parents stayed at the larger guest house on Tammany Hill. My father, Count Ernest Szechenyi, who was the lucky and privileged employee of the Countess, met us before dinner at Tammany.Mrs. Unrue, a darling, kind, capable woman who baked absolutely the best bread I have ever eaten to this day, waited for Margit to arrive. The Countess arrived in a 1954 green Chevrolet. When Margit came, the adults conversed and drank scotch and sodas, while my brother and I had some of that great crystal cool water. I still remember what we ate for dinner: steak, scalloped potatoes, and peas. The steak was so huge that my mother had to cut it up before we could eat it. But, we would never begin eating until after the Countess had the first morsel. There was a beautiful western painting of horses on the dining room wall.

COUNTESS MARGIT BESSENYEY MUST BE REMEMBERED NOT ONLY AS THE COUNTESS OF THE BEAUTIFUL BITTERROOT VALLEY BUT AS THE ONLY QUEEN OF WESTERN MONTANA.

For my brother Otto and me, 1954 was a time of innocence. The Bitterroot Stock Farm seemed infinitely large to two young boys! Crossing the many clear, rapidly gushing creeks was remarkable. Seeing the noble, majestic Hungarian thoroughbreds was truly and positively unforgettable! There were also many, many Hereford cattle and sheep.

One day I can vividly remember going up Tammany Lane with my brother--perched two stories high on a hay wagon guided by a true, honest cowboy named Vernon Jenkins. Of, course Otto and I were wearing our red cowboy hats and were armed with our play-belt pistols. The view from the Tammany Hill guest house was spectacular! One could see Blodgett Canyon, and several times there were rainbows in the canyon area. The forested, granite Bitterroots to the west seemed high and mighty. To the right of the Countess's guest house facing west was the Fullerton House, which still exists today.

At this time I would like to ask Mrs. Theo Fullerton to stand up, and I want to personally thank her and her family for their graciousness and loving kindness to our family.There was a hole on the east side of Mrs. Fullerton's fence through which Otto, the dogs, and I could communicate with the Fullertons. We traversed this path many times on our way to a sandbox. There we were met by Mr. THEO FULLERTON who was in the United States Navy and served last in Okinawa, Japan. We were spoiled by the Fullertons as we played and had a great time with their sons, BUTCH, DOUG, NICK and DAVE. We had many friendly exchanges in and out of that sandbox. I also remember the great bath tubs in the guest house. They were formidable, to say the least! I heard my father say that they were his favorite bathtubs. In truth I had seen them earlier in Chester, NH at the house of descendants of the Vanderbilt family. So, I guess the Vanderbilts had been responsible for transplanting that style of tub to Montana.

Our family spent the entire summer in Hamilton and finally left from the local train station. Margit kindly took us down to the station in her l954 Chevy. I was so impressed by that car. The front window had a dividing horizontal bar. I was terribly proud to be tall enough to see through that windshield very well! The (to me) enormous blue-white Northern Pacific RR train stopped at the Hamilton Depot and my mother, Otto and I sadly said our temporary goodbyes.

Margit was the daughter of COUNT ANTHONY SIGRAY and HARRIET DALY. Harriet, or Hattie, was the daughter of MARCUS DALY. Margit, a direct heir to the Daly mansion and to the Bitterroot Stock Farm, bought out her relatives and became the sole owner. Margit escaped from Hungry at the end of World War II. Because her mother was an American, Margit was allowed to enter the USA soon after her escape. Some time later, she learned that the U. S. Cavalry was going to disband its horses-including the Hungarian ones captured in Europe. Margit arranged to buy eight lovely mares and this is how the Hungarian Horses wound up in Hamilton, Montana. Margit became an active and supportive member of the Hamilton community. She gave land to the humane society and organized the Bitterroot Trail Ride on the Bitterroot Stock Farm.

Margit knew me before I knew her. I say this because Margit played an integral part in my family's successful escape from Communist Hungary shortly before I was born. Margit had been my mother's best friend in their youthful years in Hungary. Like my father, Margit had always loved horses.

My father was the epitome of the equestrian, having grown up on horseback and having served as a Hungarian Hussar Officer. He was a member of the HONOR GUARD of Hungary's Regent, Admiral Horthy. Margit employed my father not only because of her long-time friendship with my parents but also because of his expertise with horses. I recall the day we drove up to one of the Hungarian horses on the hill in Chapman's Landing-Margit's farm on the Potomac--located in Maryland. To my greatest amazement, the horse stood at rigid attention until the Hungarian hymnus was finished being sung.

My father fought in the last cavalry charge on the Russian front, and was captured near the Don River in Ukraine, along with l0,000 other prisoners of whom only 100 were eventually released. They were transported back to a prison camp in Eastern Hungary. The family heard about his presence there and Irma, his sister, camouflaged as a peasant, went near the camp and saw him alive inside the fence. My mother made and sent him his favorite chocolate cake to let him know that she knew where he was. In answer to my Mother's and Otto's prayers, about a year later my father was finally released from the Communist political prison. After a difficult journey, he made it to Budapest for a very happy reunion with our family. Later my father was exuberant to know that my mother was expecting her second child -- me.

My parents were under constant surveillance by the AVO, the Hungarian Communist secret police. Knowing the serious danger of being imprisoned again, my parents decided on a plan to escape from the country. They staged an argument on the street in front of their apartment - for the benefit of the secret police--and went their separate ways.

My mother and little Otto left by a hired car while my father, faking tuberculosis and pulmonary coughing, took a train. Using fake papers, they were able to cross the border to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia from where they planned to make their clandestine entry into Austria. A hired guide led them towards the nearby border at night while being pursued by the secret police. Watchtowers and border guards were everywhere. They would shoot immediately if they detected anyone trying to cross that border. My parents' guide was shot in the back and killed-right in front of them.

On the other side of a very tall barbed-wire fence there was a huge, ferocious-looking German Shepherd dog. Had he barked, it could have meant the end for all of them. Our family prayed the Rosary, and then my father climbed over the fence. Instead of attacking him, the German Shepard quietly licked his feet.Then my father knew it would be safe for my mother and Otto to quickly follow him over the fence into Austria. I was in my mother's womb at that time and she later gave me the middle name of Gulliver, for Gulliver's Travels.

Our family sought refuge in a nunnery only to be surrounded and captured by Russian soldiers. You see, after WW II, Austria was divided into the American, British, French, and Russian zones. My mother was,understandably, desperate, when she found out that my father was scheduled to be returned to Communist Hungary, probably to face a death sentence by hanging.

Fortunately, she was able to contact the Americans in Vienna. CLAIBORNE PELL, a Senator from Rhode Island, worked for the C.I.C. (Central Intelligence Corps) there. He personally knew Countess Gladys Vanderbilt Szechenyi from Newport, RI. When he heard about my family, he entered the Russian zone to meet them. He soon returned with a case of champagne for the Russian guards. While the guards were all in a drunken stupor, Claiborne Pell helped my family escape to the American zone. Margit was the distant financial sponsor of that campaign-she was the one who had bought the champagne!

Our family found refuge in the house of distant relatives in Salzburg where I was born on May 21, 1948. An American Army doctor had warned my mother that either she, or the baby would probably not survive. A C-section saved both of our lives, but my mother later developed a systemic blood infection that affected her entire body. Word of this got to Margit here in Hamilton, and she immediately sent my mother some life-saving antibiotics. This was quite a feat, since antibiotics had just recently been introduced for medicinal use.

After a brief stay in Belgium, our family immigrated to the US. Margit eventually hired my father to help her take care of her horses. His expertise was very useful not only in handling the horses, but in training and riding them as well. He rode Margit's horses in competitions and won her a first prize in an obstacle course event in New Jersey. Later he was also in charge of several horses Margit kept on her estate in Maryland.

I will always remember Margit with immense respect, love, and gratitude. She saved my family's lives and the lives of the Hungarian horses. She was a true American. She believed in the sanctity of life and in Jeffersonian democracy. She detested Communism and all forms of totalitarianism, despotism, and slavery.

I cherish her memory as the tremendous supporter and benefactor of our family that she was during many years. As a true friend she is, indeed, unforgettable.

Thank you.

Source: The Hungarian Horse Association of America

About Us

Friends of Chapman State Park, Inc. is a Section 501(c)(3), tax-exempt, not-for-profit volunteer organization founded to support Chapman State Park and Mount Aventine Manor. Friends of Chapman State Park, Inc. (EIN 06-1834784) is classified as a Public Charity under Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code and contributions are tax deductible.
 
Board Officers
President: Lynda Dyson
Vice President: Sandra Harrison
Secretary: Emily Mudd-Hendricks
Treasurer: Nancy Megas

Board Members
Jewell Bragunier

Mike Callahan
Sheryl Elliott
Debi Krahling
Bob Lukinic
Carol Schnitzler
Kate Zabriskie
 

History of Mount Aventine

Mount Aventine SmallThe Mount Aventine manor house, constructed in two phases in 1840 and 1860, is one of Charles County’s most important antebellum houses. The 1840 portion of the structure, designed as a “side passage” house, includes a kitchen wing constructed of cut stone, unique in homes of this period in southern Maryland. In 1860 the house was expanded to the center hall design you see today. The house and viewshed were listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1996 (www.nps.gov/nr/). The property is notable for being one of the few Potomac River plantations essentially retaining its original patent boundaries. The house is situated on a high terrace and commands a broad vista of farm fields and the Potomac River. The view across the Potomac to the Virginia shoreline is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the area. Mount Aventine’s commanding site led to its use as a signal point for Federal troops during the Civil War.
 
Mount Aventine Large ParlorPatented in 1673 to Luke Gardner, the plantation was purchased in 1751 by Nathaniel Chapman, a wealthy Virginia planter. Members of the Chapman family lived on the property until the early twentieth century. The Chapman family had extensive ties to many prominent Virginians, including George Mason of Gunston Hall (www.GunstonHall.org.) and to the family of George Washington. In addition to the plantation operations, Mount Aventine boasted several commercial enterprises based on the Potomac. From the time of the Revolutionary War, Chapman's Landing was one of several important ferry crossings connecting Virginia and Maryland. By the 1840's, the Chapman family ferry boat business had expanded to include a steamboat wharf and served traffic from Washington, Annapolis and Baltimore. The Potomac River fishery at Chapman's Point began as early as 1740 and operated into the twentieth century.
Mount Aventine Small ParlorMargitMount Aventinechanged hands several times in the early 1900's. From 1938-1954 it served as a part time residence and hunting preserve for the Hubbard family. In 1954, Margit Sigray Bessenyey, daughter of a Hungarian count and an American heiress, purchased the property and set about acquiring other parcels which had been sold from the original tract. Ms. Bessenyey was a noted horse breeder who bred and trained horses at Mount Aventine as well as at ranches in Montana and California. The property served as a part time residence until Ms. Bessenyey's death in 1987. A tribute to Margit Sigray Bessenyey by Ernest Szecheny provides more insight into the Countess and her life, including how she helped save a stock of Hungarian horses that were being disbanded by the U.S. Cavalry.
 
Additional information on the marriage of Ms. Bessenyey's parents, Harriet Daly and Count Anton Sigray, can be found in this article from the The Salt Lake Herald-Republican dated March 27, 1910.
 
The State purchased the property from a developer in 1998 preserving this unique property for public use.