The Fair Hill Inn/ Mitchell House/Granite House
Historical Significance and Timeline
The Mitchell Years: 1781-1847
In 1781, Dr. Abraham Mitchell, a respected physician in Cecil and surrounding counties, purchased The Granite House at Fair Hill from John Strawbridge. He was married to Mary Thompson, the great great granddaughter of Augustine Herman, founder of Bohemian Manor. During the Revolutionary War, Dr. Mitchell’s previous home, in Elkton, was used as a hospital for the Continental Army, where General Lafayette visited. In gratitude for this service, the Maryland apse of the Valley Forge Chapel was dedicated to him. From the success of his medical practice, he was able to invest in real estate. In 1781, he bought 200 acres in Fair Hill and moved his family to the Granite House, where he took up farming in addition to medicine. By 1883, he had 20 head of cattle, 5 horses and 630 acres of land throughout the county.
Upon his death in 1817, his oldest son, George E. Mitchell inherited the house, where he lived until his death in 1832. Born in 1781, George E. Mitchell was also a physician. He practiced with his father and was active in Maryland politics from 1808-1812. In 1812, when the war began, he resigned his political posts and raised a company of volunteers. He entered the military and fought heroically at Sackett’s Harbor on Lake Ontario and Oswego.
“Hero of Oswego”
On May 1, 1812, George E. Mitchell was appointed major of the Third Artillery in the Regular Army and raised a company of volunteers in Cecil County, for active service in the War of 1812…As with many Cecil County officers in the War of 1812, Mitchell and his men were sent out of state to serve…General Mitchell was in charge of defending Oswego from British attck.
“The gallant defense of Oswego was one of the most brilliant affairs on the Canadian frontier,” touted local historian George Johnston. ‘On no occasion did the Americans deserve better of their country, at no time before did the enemy buy victory with less advantage to himself or at a dearer price. Twice they repulsed and for nearly two days maintained a contest against seven times their number and finally succeeded in preserving the stores at the falls, the loss of which would have materially impeded the operations of the army and navy…’
Shortly after the war ended, the legislature of Maryland passed a series of complimentary resolutions to Mitchell’s bravery and good conduct, ordering the governor to present him with an elegant sword. That sword was proudly displayed at his home during his occupancy there. That home is now known as The Fair Hill Inn, an elegant restaurant, on Route 273 in Fair Hill.” (The Cecil Whig).
For his heroism, General George E. Mitchell was bevetted colonel. In 1821, he resigned his commission and returned to Fair Hill, where he engaged in agricultural pursuits. (History of Cecil County, George Johnson, 1881)
In 1822, Colonel Mitchell ran unopposed for congress. He served 4 (out of 5) terms as a Maryland congressman ( between 1822-1832). He had the honor of writing the resolution inviting the Marquis de Lafayette for a return trip to America in 1824, and introduced Lafayette to the House of Representatives. Upon his return to France, Lafayette gifted several choice cherry trees to Mitchell and in return, received sweet corn from Colonel Mitchell, which was planted at Lafayette's family home. The warm tone in a letter from Lafayette indicates that Colonel Mitchell and Lafayette were friends.
La Grange, May 29, 1827.
“My Dear Sir: The several kinds of corn from Fair Hill Farm, through the good care of our friend Mr. Skiner are arrived just in time to be carefully planted. It is not the first nor greatest obligation I am under to you, but I do assure you the previous invoice is very welcome, the more so when it has been gathered on your farm, and kindly sent by you. I hope this letter will find you in good health and requesting you to remember me most respectfully to family and friends. I am with all my heart, your affectionate grateful friend. --Lafayette”
Included in the Mitchell papers at the Maryland Historical Society, is a letter from J.Q. Adams regarding the Washington monument, the tomb of George Washington, and the burial of Martha Washington. There is also correspondence between the architect, Robert Mills and Mitchell, regarding the design of the Washington Monument.
The Hess Years: 1861-1937
In 1861, the property was acquired by the Hess family, and known as Hess' Tavern. During the late 1800s it was common for farmhouses to be converted into hotels/taverns. This is attributed to Cecil County's heavily traveled and notably bad roads, precipitating the need for accommodation and meals. Other examples of similar farmhouse conversions include the Rock Springs Hotel (1825), Blue Ball Tavern (mid to late 18th C), Krauss’s (Cross Keys) Tavern in Fair Hill (1802), Rodgers Tavern in Port Deposit (1760)
The du Pont Years: 1937-1975
The property adjacent to the Fair Hill Inn, now called the Fair Hill Natural Management Resources Area (NMRA), was previously the beloved property of William Dupont Jr., where he raised Thoroughbred horses and fox hounds for fox hunting. He was influential in building Maryland’s Thoroughbred horse industry and sponsored many events and races. The annual Foxcatcher race was started by him. He designed over 20 race courses, including the course on the property. Although the Fair Hill Inn site was part of the du Pont land, it was not purchased by the state of Maryland with the rest in 1975.
The Fair Hill Inn Years: 1975 - 2014 and Beyond
1975-2006 Fair Hill property purchased by Anthony Graziano, lovingly restored and added to the National Register of Historic Places (CE-74). Then, run as a successful local restaurant.
2006-2014 Phil Pyle and team advance the Farmstead Cuisine concept and maintain a great reputation for the business.
2014 and Beyond Chef Frederick, the new owner and caretakers of the historic house and farmstead, plan to continue the success of the Fair Hill Inn by providing a memorable fine dining experience in a warm and inviting environment. We welcome you!