Preserved in 1998 by the State of Maryland's Program Open Space (POS), Chapman State Park stretches from the Potomac River to Mattawoman Creek, in western Charles County. The park is a dramatic reminder of the great woodlands that once cradled the Potomac tidewater region.
Visitors to Chapman State Park enjoy a journey through time, to Southern Maryland's pastoral heritage, finding mature forests, rare plants, and bald eagles frequenting the skies above. Park visitors also discover the Mt. Aventine Mansion: the historic home of the prominent Chapman family, who were closely tied to the families of our Founding Fathers George Washington and George Mason. As one stands in front of the Chapmans' grand estate, looking down the Potomac River and Virginia shoreline, enjoying one of the most striking view sheds in the region, our colonial history inspires the imagination.
For several thousand years before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans inhabited the area that is now Chapman State Park. In 1608, Captain John Smith passed here on his exploration of the Potomac River. During his riparian voyage various tribal settlements were identified, and maps of the area dated 1673 still showed Native American longhouses where Chapman State Park is now.
However, by 1750, with plantations becoming increasingly common along the Potomac River, Nathaniel Chapman acquired this land, then known as Grimes Ditch. Nathaniel Chapman was a prominent colonial businessman. He was also a friend and business associate of both the American patriot and “Founding Father” George Mason and Augustine Washington, father of George Washington. The 165 years that followed the Chapman acquisition of Grimes Ditch brought an engaging history that included a tidewater plantation, a large and lucrative shad and herring fishery, the construction of the family’s “Mt. Aventine” manor, the gripping drama of the Civil War, a post-war farm, a Hungarian horse farm, and eventually the creation of Chapman State Park.
- Pets are allowed in Chapman State Park.
Mt. Aventine Mansion:
The Chapman family occupied its Mt. Aventine mansion until 1914, when the family estate was sold. This grand manor house was built by Nathaniel Chapman’s great-grandson, Pearson, around 1840, after a fire damaged the original house near the river. The antebellum mansion, which commands a prominent overlook and spectacular view of the Potomac River, was appended to a small stone cottage dating to the late 1700’s. Today’s structure includes several additions.
The structure was enlarged around 1860, expanding its east-west axis. The Mt. Aventine Mansion is a two-story, common bond brick structure, with lower flanking wings. A cedar lined lane provides the approach to the manor house.
The house currently consists of 8 fireplaces, 5 bedrooms, 6 ½ bathrooms, a front parlor, a dining room, a main kitchen area, a warming kitchen area, and 2 offices. There is also a basement under the main part of the house. The central hall with two wings architecture makes it one of the best examples of antebellum homes in Southern Maryland. As such, Mt. Aventine was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1996.
From 1914, when the Chapman family sold its estate, until the 1990’s, there were various owners of the property – including the Countess Margit Bessenyey, who owned the property from 1954 – 1984. The Countess was the late wife of the Hungarian ambassador to the United States and an avid equestrian. She used the Chapman property as a stud farm for Hungarian thoroughbred horses. Chapman State Park still includes the barns, stables, and a riding arena installed by the Countess.
Mt. Aventine Open House - The Friends of Chapman State Park host an open house on the second Sunday of each month between April and October. These open houses feature guided nature walks, history presentations, and children’s activities.
The habitats of Chapman State Park vary from flooded wetlands to cactus-studded dry sands, illustrating the variety of the coastal plain’s natural heritage. Significant biodiversity thrives here, with over three dozen state-rare species of oaks, a globally rare snail, wetland animals, native cactus, bald eagles, and much more. The park’s many forest types include oak-hickory terraces, steep ravines, bottomland woods, and a rare shell-marl forest which is rich in calcium-loving plants reminiscent of mountain habitats. Over 1,000 acres of forest interior grant sanctuary for dozens of species of birds, protecting them from predators that hunt more open spaces. Chapman State Park also boasts several trails, 2-miles of Potomac shoreline, miles of streams, shaded wetlands, fertile pools where amphibians breed, sunny meadows, and a large impounded marsh.
- Potomac River Trail – This hiking trail doubles as a service road that joins the original Chapman’s Landing Road to the Potomac River. The 0.6 mile trail roughly marks the boundary between a dry sandy woodland (to the northeast), and a more moist, richer forest (to the southwest).
- Marsh Trail – This marked trail branches off of the Potomac River Trail, and meanders through a fertile bottomland woods that contrasts the sandier woodland along the Potomac shoreline. The 0.7 mile trail leads to an unusual “scrub-shrub” marsh which is separated from the Potomac River by a narrow spit.
- Coastal Woodlands Trail – This clearly marked, 1-mile trail joins the Potomac River Trail to make a 1.5 mile loop. The trail runs through various habitats, including a terrace gravel forest and a coastal oak forest, to eventually run along the Potomac shoreline.
- Birding – In 2009, Chapman State Park was designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. For information on self guided birding opportunities in Charles County visit: www.dnr.maryland.gov/outdooradventures/birdingcharlesco.html
- Fishing - Fishing is permitted from shore. Species include largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish, white and yellow perch, carp and hardhead. A Chesapeake Bay Sportfishing License is required.
- Hunting - Designated areas of Chapman State Park offer managed and in-season hunting opportunities. For specific information refer to the Maryland DNR – Guide to Hunting and Trapping or call 301-743-5161 for current seasons.
Hunters may enter / remain on park property outside of the regular posted hours provided that they are engaged in legitimate, authorized hunting activity.
- Pets - Pets are permitted in the state park.
Points Of Interest
- Historical points of interest nearby include: Thomas Stone National Historic Site http://www.nps.gov/thst/index.htm,
Fort Washington National Historic Site http://www.nps.gov/fowa/index.htm,
Dr. Samuel Mudd House http://www.somd.lib.md.us/MUSEUMS/Mudd.htm,
and the Port Tobacco Court House http://www.mdmunicipal.org/cities/index.cfm?townname=PortTobacco&page=home
- There are several scenic flat water canoe routes in Southern Charles County. For information about the Potomac River Water Trail visit: http://www.baygateways.net/general.cfm?id=19
- Nearby Public Lands: Smallwood State Park; Purse State Park; Chapel Point State Park
Volunteers...The Friends of Chapman State Park, Inc., in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Park Service, help maintain and operate Chapman State Park. For volunteer information contact 301-743-7613.
To Visit / Directions:
Chapman State Park is located at 3452 Ferry Place in Indian Head, Maryland.
From the DC area:
DC Beltway (I-695) to Indian Head Highway (Exit 3) – MD Route 210 S
Continue on Route 210 for approximately 10 miles to the light at Bryans Road (stay straight)
From Bryans Road - Follow for 1.1 miles to Chapmans Landing Road – Veer right off the highway
Continue for 1.6 miles to the entrance sign - on your right
The driveway gate is usually locked. Visitors are encouraged to park in the small designated area just outside the main gate and enter using the “Walk-In Gate” to the left.
Contact information: This is not the physical address of Chapman State Park.
Chapman State Park
c/o Smallwood State Park
2750 Sweden Point Road
Marbury, MD 20658
Photographs by Danny Rothell of Rothell Enterprises
Chapman State Park
3452 Ferry Place
Indian Head MD 20640
Smallwood State Park: 301-743-7613
Hours of Operation
Sunrise to Sunset
Certain activities are permitted outside of the regular park hours (e.g. fishing, boat launch, hunting where permitted). Please check with the park before your visit if you plan to engage in an activity which requires you to be in the park before or after the posted hours.
Contact the Park Service
- Toll Free: 1-800-830-3974
- Reservations: 1-888-432-2267
- Park Watch: 1-800-825-7275
- Email Us