Change Comes to London Town ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

November 13, 1992

The London Town Publik House and Gardens is one of those magical places where one can forget the present and journey back to Colonial times, when Edgewater was a busy tobacco port. During those days, London Town was a crossing on an overland route from Williamsburg, Va., to Philadelphia. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among the notables who used its ferry.

Suburban Annapolis keeps creeping up on London Town. But the Publik House, a restored red-brick Georgian mansion dating to the mid-1760s, still stands guard over the South River, surrounded by a sizable garden that is as enjoyable for strolling in these late, blustery days of autumn as it is during the azalea days of spring.

Change is now coming to London Town Publik House. Under a plan advocated by Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, operation of the historic property is to be privatized by next summer.

Although the landmark is to remain in county ownership, a private foundation is to be created to run it. (The London Town property is currently operating under the aegis of the county Department of Recreation and Parks).

Privatization is a buzzword in these recessionary times. Local governments everywhere are trying to limit non-essential services and public obligations.

When the management of the London Town Publik House and Gardens is privatized, Anne Arundel County would at least initially continue to provide an operating subsidy. In the long run, however, the property is expected to become largely self-sustaining.

In the past few years, the London Town mansion and grounds have been used for such events as antique and craft shows, Colonial celebrations and privately catered affairs. If anything, the variety of uses and number of events would have to be increased if private management is to make the required profit. "We are kind of feeling our way," county spokeswoman Louise Hayman says of the privatization effort.

We urge the county to regard the planned change as an experiment. If it works, fine; if it fails, adjustments should be made, alternatives tried.

The main thing is to preserve the London Town Publik House and Gardens as the pleasurable amenity it has been for so long for Marylanders.

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