- Historic Sites
Annapolis: An American Classic
October/November 1986 | Volume 37, Issue 6
Paca clearly built his house to last. And yet by the early 190Os the house and part of its splendid garden were buried within a two-hundred-room hotel; later a parking lot and bus station were added. By 1965 the whole excrescence was scheduled for demolition until Historic Annapolis intervened, buying the house and assuring its restoration, along with that of the garden.
The Paca house is full of treasures, but it is the spacious, peaceful Paca garden that tempted me to linger, even at the expense of a house tour or two. This walled oasis is a conscious re-creation of an English-influenced garden, restored as closely as possible to William Paca’s original scheme. The record is surprisingly sparse. Among the clues: a surviving corner of a garden wall; a Charles Willson Peale portrait of Paca that included a garden pavilion in the background; archeological findings that revealed the undulating form of the garden, and root remains that told of trees and shrubs that once flourished.
Under the care of a historically trained horticulturist, the garden features plantings that would have been grown locally at the time—bayberry and Saint-John’swort, for example, as well as imported plants popular in England and France, and in classical literature—gold-lace primrose, myrtle, lady apple, lavender, and fig. Room also has been found in these two acres for vegetable, flower, and physick gardens, as well as for a wooded wilderness area.
The visitor with a sense of history will also want to explore the massive State House, the oldest state capitol in the United States in continuous legislative use. Its original section, built between 1772 and 1779, contains the chamber that functioned briefly as the Capitol of the United States from November 1783 to August 1784. Here, on December 23, 1783, Gen. George Washington resigned his commission. To the tears of onlookers, Washington concluded his address by saying, “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action … and take my leave of all the employments of public life.” At a ball held in his honor the previous night, it was noted that General Washington saw to it that “all the ladies might have the pleasure of dancing with him.”
A couple of blocks away the campus of St. John’s College, founded in 1696, is dominated by a huge tulip poplar tree said to be more than four hundred years old, under which the Sons of Liberty met to plot their Revolutionary strategy.
The eighteenth-century harbor is now considered the East Coast’s sailing capital.
The United States Naval Academy, opened in 1845, has a spacious, tree-shaded campus—a U.S. National Historic Site—which is home to countless relics of the Navy’s history, including John Paul Jones’s tomb under the chapel and a starkly simple flag emblazoned with the uncompromising dying words Capt. James Lawrence uttered during the 1812 war: DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP . The flag was flown by Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry at his decisive victory on Lake Erie.
For an orientation to the many sights of Annapolis, call on the services of Historic Annapolis or Three Centuries Tours; both offer guided walking tours and will tailor them for special groups.
Another way to immerse yourself in the spirit of the town is to book rooms at any of the Historic Inns of Annapolis, five hotels that have been carefully restored by a local developer, Paul Pearson. One of these, the Maryland Inn, dating back to the 1770s, contains Annapolis’s finest restaurant, the Treaty of Paris, which offers an incomparable buffet lunch on Sundays. Try for a room with a view of the harbor; it’s the best seat in town. Another of the group, Reynolds Tavern, dates from about 1747 and was built by the town hatter. It is distinguished on the outer walls by a graceful and rare undulating belt course—a row of bricks that typically marked off the first floor from the second—and holds a lovely colonial dining room, as well as an outdoor terrace, with just four elegant accommodations upstairs.
The day I arrived in Annapolis I noticed a bunch of young people vigorously attacking a blacktop parking lot with pickaxes. They weren’t vandals but archeologists seeking the long-buried dwelling of one Thomas Hyde, a wealthy citizen of the town in the mid-1700s. In fact, the town is enveloped in historical energy: it colors the narrow brick walkways, flickers over the waters of the harbor, and perfumes the great magnolias and walnut trees, and the venerable tulip poplar.