New generation for Harford mansion

Birthright: A man moves his family into historic Sion Hill near Havre de Grace.

May 30, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Jonathan Green has packed up his wife, six children and all his earthly goods and returned to his family home on a hill overlooking Havre de Grace.

It may not sound like big news, until one considers that Green is the scion of an American naval dynasty, and the home, Sion Hill, is one of Maryland's most historic.

"This place is my family's legacy," the 45-year-old Green said, standing on the front porch with a sweeping vista of the Chesapeake Bay and adjacent farmland. "We're stewards. We're going to be here for a while and fill it with life."

Green, a commercial real estate agent, is the sixth generation of his family to live at Sion Hill, which was built in the late 18th century.

While many homes dating to the beginning of the nation still stand in Maryland, state historians say, most are owned by museums, foundations or private groups. Those still in the hands of the original family number only a handful.

Green and his wife, Diane, say that while they want to maintain the integrity of Sion Hill, they also want it to feel like home for their children, who range in age from 2 to 12.

Jonathan Green said his mother, Ann, who is now in her 80s, offered the house to him a while ago but that he wasn't ready to make the transition at the time.

The house was built in the 1780s as a boys school by the Rev. John Ireland, according to state historian Christopher Weeks. Weeks says that Colin Shrimpton, a librarian for the Duke of Northumberland, suggests that the name "Sion Hill" derives from a property called Sion Hill at Twickenham, England.

Ireland sold the property in 1795 to Gideon Denison. His daughter, Minerva, inherited the house, where she lived with her husband, John Rodgers, an adventurous naval officer whose parents ran an inn and ferry service in Havre de Grace.

Rodgers, who once served on the USS Constellation, rose through the Navy's ranks and became a hero of the War of 1812, when he helped fend off the British at Hampstead Hill, today part of Patterson Park.

Through John and Minerva Rodgers' 11 children, and their descendants -- as well as Rodgers' brother, also a naval commander -- the family founded a military dynasty.

Through marriage, the family is related to Commodore Matthew Perry, whose trade negotiations opened Japan to the United States in the 1850s, and Montgomery Meigs, quartermaster of the Union army during the Civil War.

Jonathan Green is Meigs' great-great-grandson.

Green's father, Montgomery Green, moved into Sion Hill in 1947 with his bride, Ann.

"I always liked it," Ann Green said of Sion Hill, where her three sons and daughter were born. "We didn't do much fixing up. I don't think we bought very much furniture at all."

After her children grew up and her husband died, Sion Hill became more than she needed, or desired. At 83, she said: "I'm older, and I don't like steps."

But she is staying on next door, in a cottage built decades ago for Cornelia Meigs, an award-winning author of children's books.

"This is what I've been hoping for," Ann Green said of passing the house along to the next generation. "It doesn't get to happen very often."

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