The Homes Of Maryland's Signers

September 16, 1990|By Clara Ann Simmons

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone -- all between the ages of 33 and 39; lawyers, planters, public officials -- met on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia's brick state house. On July 2, as members of the Continental Congress, they had voted for Richard Henry Lee's resolution: "... resolved that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states. ..." Now these Marylanders were eager to add their names to Thomas Jefferson's ringing declaration.

Our debt to them is unpayable; they risked their fortunes for oufreedom. Charles Carroll of Carrollton risked the most. There is an apocryphal story that as he signed someone said, "There goes a million."

Although he used the designation "of Carrollton," he seldom visited this 10,000-acre estate in Frederick County, a main source of his revenue. The home where he spent 80 years of his life was his Annapolis birthplace on Duke of Gloucester Street, built by his father on a point bounded by Spa -- then Carroll -- Creek and the harbor. (Carroll did spend the last 12 winters of his life at his daughter Mary's home on Lombard Street in Baltimore, now known as the Carroll Mansion.)

Sully's ethereal portrait shows the patrician Carroll clothed all iblack except for a white collar on his robe (he felt that spending money on fashion was money wasted). His small, solid, plain brick house reflects this scorn of fashion. The outside is unadorned by shutters, pedimented doorways, pilasters, entablature blocks. Two plain basement doors lead from the four-story rear to the terraced garden where Carroll feted George Washington with a dinner and dance when the latter resigned as commander in chief.

The front door opens into a square entry hall whose carvestairway balustrade prudently gives way to plain slats as the stair ascends to the lesser-used third floor. On each side of the hall is a small room with a corner fireplace. Behind the hall and these two rooms is now one big room with two end fireplaces.

Carroll's heirs willed the house to the Redemptorist Order oRoman Catholic priests. They added a west wing in 1856 that balances the east wing added by Carroll. It is believed that this wing housed his chapel. In the past few years, the religious group has renovated the slate roof, dormers and chimneys and stabilized the garden and sea walls.

A grant from the Maryland General Assembly assured renovatioof the rest of the exterior in 1986. Now Charles Carroll House of Annapolis Inc., a non-profit group, has embarked on a major fund-raising campaign to renovate the interior as a small conference and reception center; a fitting memorial to Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

Across town from Carroll lived flamboyant, impetuous SamueChase. Trained for the law, he saw a bright future ahead, and at age 28 paid 100 pounds for Lot 107 on Maryland Avenue, where he began building a grand brick house. Today it is surrounded by a tall paling fence. A high, broad flight of steps leads to the front landing and a recessed central door that has a bay on either side. This three-bay theme is carried out on the upper two stories. It is as grandiose as Chase's financial schemes; halfway through construction of the house, he found himself short of funds and sold it in 1771 to Edward Lloyd IV.

One source gives the price as 504 pounds sterling, plus 2,49current pounds for all houses, edifices, buildings, improvements, etc., on the lot. This is a big increase from the price of two years earlier and would seem to indicate that a lot of the building had been done. Other sources state that Lloyd and William Buckland were responsible for most of the interior detail.

(Lloyd and Buckland were an interesting pair. Lloyd was called "Edward the Magnificent" because of his love of the finer things in life; Buckland earned the nickname "Tastemaker of the Colonies" for his sense of style.)

The detail is breathtaking: The hallway has an Ionic colonnadescreen and elaborate carved cornice. The single flight of stairs leads to a landing dominated by a large Palladian window that looks out onto the garden. The stairway divides there and two sets of stairs finish the climb.

Elaborate carving is evident in the interior shutters, which havrosettes and octagonal medallions similar to ones in nearby Paca House. The doors are solid mahogany with sterling silver hinges -- one wonders what Charles Carroll thought of such display.

In 1888, the house was left in perpetuity (excepting familportraits and silver) to the Episcopal Church for use as a home for elderly women. It continues thus to this day.

Just around the corner, at 18 Prince George St., is the WilliaPaca House, built by this signer between 1763 and 1765 for his first wife, Mary Chew. Described as graceful and complacent by Charles Willson Peale, who painted his portrait, Paca evidently loved fashion. In the portrait, his 6-foot-plus frame is clothed in fancy breeches and decorated waistcoat.

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