Annapolis: A Bastion of History
Immerse yourself in Old World Charm.
Nov 1, 2021 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
From land and water, the Old World charm of Annapolis, Maryland enchants visitors and locals alike. If you wander through its rabbit warren maze of city streets, you will surely feel as though you’re walking through eighteenth-century America. Indeed, the red-brick buildings throughout Annapolis, most of which is classified as a National Historic District, present some of the finest examples of Colonial architecture in the country. Best of all, these small row houses (and of course some big mansions!) as well as their slivers of gardens and courtyards have been beautifully preserved; and as you approach the waterfront, many boast a lively scene peppered with beloved taverns, restaurants and shops.
Many of these historic homes, such as those that make up Gibson’s Lodgings of Annapolis, also house quaint inns where you can enjoy modern amenities within an elegant old fashioned décor. Others have been lovingly transformed into B & Bs, of which there are many in and around this beautiful town. Or, you can stop in and savor some crab cakes and a pint at one of the town’s beloved dining and drinking establishments such as the Middleton Tavern, an iconic gathering place established in 1750. This renowned institution once hosted some of America’s founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
As the capital of Maryland and once the capital of the United States–for one brief shining moment in 1783 and 1784–the historical significance of Annapolis is felt at every turn. Add to that the fact that it is located on the Chesapeake Bay only twenty-five miles south of Baltimore and thirty miles east of Washington, DC and you begin to further understand its preeminence over the centuries. First settled on the Severn River at the mouth of the Chesapeake in 1649 in what was then the Province of Maryland, much of the growth of Annapolis occurred during the eighteenth century when it became best known for its boatbuilding, sailmaking and oyster packing. Most of the buildings you see in historic Annapolis are, in fact, from that era.
Annapolis also served as a major center for the slave trade during that time, a slice of history that makes few in the region proud. In an effort perhaps to make amends for this shameful part of Annapolis history, the town erected the Kunte Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial at City Dock. The sculpture immortalizes Alex Haley, author of “Roots, the Saga of an American Family,” reading to children. Haley told the story of Kunte Kinte, a young man kidnapped in Gambia, who was enslaved, shipped across the Atlantic and later sold at this very place in Annapolis. The sculpture gives one pause both for its endearing depiction and for what it represents.
If you like gardens, the William Paca House and Garden will delight you with its Colonial-era-designed terraced garden. Housed within an eighteenth century Georgian mansion, the interior of the Paca House is not too shabby either.
Step into the Banneker-Douglass Museum created within an old church to further understand Maryland’s African American Heritage. Named for two Marylanders, Benjamin Banneker, the first African American man of science and mathematics who later became an abolitionist and Frederick Douglass, the first African American to gain international recognition for his social activism, the museum showcases a variety of programs, events and tours in addition to its permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Real history buffs will want to visit the Maryland State House; built in 1772, it’s the oldest state capital still in legislative use. You can tour this storied building and/or visit one of the exhibitions it often presents. Or, you can just amble around the back and take in the magnificent vista of the Annapolis skyline from a rear balcony. From land or sea, this handsome structure and its surrounding area are a vision to behold.
There’s undoubtedly lots of spirits adrift in this historic town and you can find out about some of them on a ghost tour of Annapolis. For other types of historic tours, check out Watermark, a reputable company that conducts tours in period costumes or you can do your own self-guided tour with the help of the GPSmyCity app.
If all of this history touring has inspired you to pick up some treasured mementos for yourself, browse through the antique stores on Maryland Avenue, a lovely street that emanates from the Maryland State House. At the far end you’ll discover the Hammond-Harwood House Museum, a museum of architecture and early American fine and decorative arts housed within an eighteenth-century dwelling. It’s lovely to see the grandeur in which the Annapolis elite lived at that time; and their gift shop is pretty sweet, too.