Annapolis lawmakers agreed last night to team up with historic preservationists to restore a dilapidated, pre-Civil War home that has represented freedom for generations of black residents.
The shingled, wood-frame house across the street from City Hall is believed to be the first home in Maryland's capital owned by a free black man. The shell that's left was about to be sold.
Worried that the significance of the home would be lost, Alderman Ellen O. Moyer introduced a resolution last night calling for the city to take over the title.
The Ward 8 Democrat said the city could qualify for government and restoration grants, unlike Port of Annapolis, the for-profit preservation group that owns the home.
Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and the City Council overwhelmingly approved the measure, although one alderman objected that the city could end up saddled with a costly renovation project.
"My concern is we don't have the whole framework with where we're headed," said Alderman John Hammond, a Republican representing the city's 1st Ward. "I think more thought ought to be given to this before we blithely enter into an arrangement where a white elephant might be placed on our front porch."
The two-story home at 163 Duke of Gloucester St. is known as the Maynard-Burgess House, named after the families that owned it. John T. Maynard, a free black man, established his homestead on two lots he bought on the street for $400, historical records show.
His granddaughter sold the home in 1915 to Willis Burgess, one of her boarders. Lillian Burgess, the last in the family to live in the home, moved out in 1990 because of ill health.
Archaeologists found artifacts in the home last year that were used to create a record of the early life of black Americans in Annapolis.
Port of Annapolis, which buys and restores homes in the city's port district, bought the empty house for $167,000 in January 1991.
The group, created by members of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, has spent thousands of dollars just shoring up the sagging frame. The shareholders hope to get tax credits by turning over the home to the city.
Historic Annapolis plans to "be a very active partner" with the city and work with other interested groups to restore the home, said Ann Fligsten, president of the foundation.
The non-profit foundation, which has refurbished many of Annapolis' Colonial-era homes, is trying to emphasize more of the city's African American heritage, she said.
Plans are being considered for a downtown walking tour that would include the Banneker-Douglass Museum, which showcases Maryland's African American history.