Walking thru History
Downtown Annapolis is a time capsule. Follow me on this mile-and-a-half jaunt, and you’ll pass through 350 years.
Editor’s note: What’s your favorite walk in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties? Guide us through its spaces, history and ecology in 400 to 800 words with pictures. Send to email@example.com. Selected tours earn editing, a byline and $25.
Find a parking place on Main Street and buy two hours on the meter, for we start at Kilwins, the candy and more store, where you can sit on a bench with a cup of coffee for our first lesson.
A tree once stood on the barren space next to this bench.
Trees on small town main streets are rare. They were cut down as fire hazards until modern fire equipment made their destruction obsolete.
This absent tree succumbed to a fire five years ago when Zachary’s Jewelers burned to the ground. Zachary’s moved down the street and reopened in a week. The burned-out lot is still vacant. A fire in this same location in 1883 took the life of a Mr. Legg who was attempting to save his aunt.
Drop your empty cup in the trash can decorated with a stow it message from Lacy Ann and friends, aka Queen Anne lace, black-eyed Susan and Tudor Rose, three personified flowers symbolizing the 350 years of Annapolis history we’re exploring.
Walk 50 steps uphill to Francis Street, a short block leading up the highest hill in town to the State House, the nation’s oldest capitol building still in use. The street is named after Gov. Francis Nicholson, who moved the Maryland colony’s perceived Catholic capital from St. Mary’s City to Protestant Annapolis in 1694.
In an irony of history, half way up the block in No. 10, the Maryland Catholic Conference makes its home in a building commissioned by Nicholson. The irony? As governor, he set aside Maryland’s Act of Toleration and unique foundation of religious freedom and instituted the penal code against Catholics, who could no longer vote or hold office or practice law. The code stayed in effect until 1776, when the new nation’s Bill of Rights adopted the 1649 Toleration Act of Maryland.
Constructed in 1708, No. 10 began life as King William’s School, which became St. John’s College on land originally set aside for a governor’s house several blocks away. By 1776, No. 10 was the popular, strangely named Indian King Tavern and Inn, which advertised rooms with fireplaces, rediscovered and retained in the building’s 2002 historic restoration. George Washington and General Lafayette stayed at the inn, where it is rumored they planned Maryland’s involvement in the Revolutionary War.
Nicholson’s effort on behalf of the English monarchs William and Mary was intended to reduce the power of the Calverts, the Maryland colony’s founders. In another irony, Benedict Leonard Calvert decided it was no fun being Catholic, converted to the Church of England and became the 15th proprietary governor of the Colony, from 1727 to 1731.
The convert replaced his cousin, Captain Charles Calvert, who took office in 1720 with a mission “to soothe the peace of the lingering religious strife.” His home on 58 State Circle is now one of the Historic Inns of Annapolis, the Calvert House Inn now popular with our state’s elected leaders. Benedict improved the house in 1727 with a heating system uncovered in an archeology project and maintained under a glass floor in the lobby of the Inn for all to see.
Walk counter-clockwise around State Circle to my favorite street, Maryland Avenue, to follow in the footsteps of our nation’s leaders who walked here daily for nine months on the way to the State House, the new nation’s capital from November 26, 1783 to August 13, 1784.
William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the leaders of the political Sons of Liberty hungry for independence from the crippling fiscal policies of mother England. His home at 186 Prince George Street, a National Historic Landmark, is a two-block walk from the Capitol.
Paca’s colleague Sam Chase lived nearby. So did Gov. Ogle. So did Benjamin Tasker, president of the legislature for 32 years. So did Anthony Stewart, whose ship Peggy Stewart was burned in an early Tea Party. So did Daniel Lloyd and visitors Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. They all walked Maryland Avenue to the Capital and Prince George Street to lavish parties in the Paca Gardens, built in 1763.
Prince George Street
The Sands House at 130 Prince George Street is probably the most researched site in the city. Its blue plaque (one of eight colors used in the city to identify building eras) identifies it as belonging to the federal period, 1784 to 1840. Yet some of its beams are dated to trees cut in 1681. The front porch is a 20th century addition. Open as a study home, it is filled with period furniture and artifacts, even Native American, found on the site.
Down Prince George Street, you come across one of the city’s 13 public murals. This one illustrates John Paul Jones, who didn’t give up his ship and is buried at the Naval Academy.
Prince George Street ends in a park at the waters edge, one of Annapolis’ 19 street-end parks. George Lawlor, the visiting mayor of Annapolis’ sister city, Wexford, Ireland, unveiled a plaque here for Commodore John Barry, a Wexfordian who was named by General George Washington as commodore of America’s non-existent Navy.
Retrace your steps to bustling City Dock, and you enter the hub of America’s sailing capital, where the Sailing Hall of Fame will rise. The area was once alive with sailors hustling gear for the ships of the port city. Middleton Tavern at 2 Market Space dates to 1740 as the Inn for Seafaring Men. When not serving sailors, it was home to the literary Tuesday Club and the Jockey Club and has been visited for food and drink for 300 years by the revered leaders of the colony, state and city. Nearby in 1864, a Russian sailor was killed in a bar fight that almost ignited an international feud.
Back to Main Street, you’ll find enough time at your two-hour parking meter for ice cream and your last history lesson.
Ice cream parlors came to Annapolis in the 1880s. Sodas were popularized in that era as cures for headaches, lethargy and every ill. They contained cocaine and plenty of caffeine. Coca Cola was introduced in 1886 as a patent medicine containing five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup and kola nuts for caffeine. Those pep-you-up drinks died with the Harrison Act of 1914 that prohibited over-the-counter use of opiates.
Another prohibition, against alcohol, ushered in the golden years of soda fountains, when every drug store had a fountain for phosphates and carbonated and caffeinated drinks. The boast of the 1920s — The bar is dead, the fountain lives, and the soda is king — remains, and so do ice cream parlors.
Soda fountains died in the 1980s, the victim of omnipresent vending machines. But in Annapolis, ice cream parlors thrive.
Before your two hours expires on the meter, you’ve walked one and a half miles through 350 years of time in 15 square blocks.
Ellen Moyer was mayor of Annapolis from 2002 though 2009.