Cronkite describes the way it was in Annapolis ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY--Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

February 08, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

When tourists come to eat seafood or stroll by the water in Annapolis, they often miss the history surrounding them. Perhaps Walter Cronkite will change that.

The former CBS anchorman, a longtime Chesapeake Bay sailor, has taped a 1 1/2 -hour walking tour through the city. Simple plaques mark the Georgian architecture, but visitors usually don't get to hear the colorful stories of the shipbuilders, tavern owners and national leaders who lived in Maryland's Colonial capital.

The Historic Annapolis Foundation has wanted to offer visitors who miss its group tours a self-guided version for some time, said Linnell R. Bowen, director of development for the nonprofit organization.

"This is really popular in museums," she said. "The whole thing is a taste of Annapolis, and it lets people be independent while they look around."

Last year, the foundation received $50,000 from Anne Arundel County to put together the walking tour. It includes stops at City Dock, the State House, St. John's College and historic homes.

When it came time to pick a narrator, the city's historic preservationists immediately thought of Mr. Cronkite, the famous newsman who frequents McGarvey's and keeps his boat docked in Annapolis. He taped the tour in December.

Visitors will be able to rent the tapes and lightweight cassette players for $7 at the Victualling Warehouse when it reopens in March.

Built around 1740, the warehouse at the foot of Main Street was restored in the late 1970s as a museum to showcase Annapolis' maritime history.

It was open to the public until last year, when state budget cuts and a steep drop in corporate donations forced the foundation to shut the doors.

The tour starts in the warehouse in front of a large model of the city's harbor in 1751.

"The view outside this building today is much the same," Mr. Cronkite says on the tape. "The shipyard, ropewalks and blacksmiths are gone and some of the buildings have been hidden behind 20th-century facades, but a ship's chandler still does business at dockside. The market house has been moved, but Middleton Tavern and many other buildings look as they did at that time."

Brief histories of the Old Treasury, Shiplap House and Tobacco Prise House are on the tour, as well as six stops in the State House and the story of a home on Cornhill Street that was once a brewer's tavern.

Mr. Cronkite talks about the city's African-American heritage. But the tour does not include stops at the Banneker-Douglass Museum or the Maynard-Burgess House, believed to be the first home owned by a free black man in Annapolis.

Ms. Bowen said those stops were too far from the main downtown area.

The foundation hopes to develop a separate African-American walking tour in the near future, she said.

But black leaders have criticized the foundation for failing to include more of the city's African-American history.

"It's ridiculous, because so much of Annapolis integrates both blacks and whites," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Democrat who represents the city's 5th Ward. "I would imagine if you're going to have a walking tour, it is impossible to do it without including people of African-American descent."

The foundation plans to use profits from the walking tour to keep the maritime museum open seven days a week.

A gilded, carved sign with an anchor will be installed over the door to attract visitors, Ms. Bowen said.

As visitors listen to the tape and stroll through the brick streets in the summertime, they will gently be reminded that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson walked there more than 200 years ago. As Mr. Cronkite says, that's what makes Annapolis' history come alive.

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