Washington's Maryland History: Celebrate George Washington's birthday by visiting the sites where he once walked and slept.

UP FRONT

February 13, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Washington slept here. And ate here. And traveled the roads here. And, apparently, even buried his horse here (in Jessup, on the way to Valley Forge).

Yep, when it comes to invoking the memory of old George, you can't do much better than Maryland. Of course, you could go across the Potomac to Virginia, where he was born, lived and died, but what true Marylander wants to go to Virginia? Why, we've got both the first minor monument and the first major monument built in his honor. We've got a county named for him, not to mention a college. We've got the homes of several of his ancestors, without whom there never would have been a Washington (and our nation's capital could very well have been named Cornwallis).

Even our nickname, the Old Line State, stems from the resolve of Maryland soldiers who protected Washington's troops from annihilation during the Revolutionary War battle of New York.

Monday, we'll honor a pair of America's greatest presidents by doing what we Americans always do to honor great events in our history ... staying home from school and work to take advantage of big-time sales, maybe saving $50 on a freezer, and thinking of Washington and Lincoln every time we throw an ice cube in a soda.

But if you decide to try something revolutionary and actually invoke Washington's spirit on the day we honor his legacy, you won't have to go very far.

You could just travel York Road, for instance. As a plaque outside Towson State University attests, Washington is known to have traveled this centuries-old thoroughfare. To exercise your imagination, stand alongside the plaque and look north toward Towson, trying to imagine what this must have looked like in 1768, when the road was mostly mud and the big news was the opening of the Towson Tavern, near the site where the old Towson Theater stands.

For more tangible memories of Washington here in Baltimore, take a gander at George's dentures, on display at the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry (31 S. Greene St., [410] 706-0600), or a wax portrait of the general, for which he actually took time out from his busy schedule to model, at the Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library (201 W. Monument St., [410] 685-3750).

Unfortunately, Monday being a near-universal off day for museums, both of the above will be closed then. But you can still visit Lexington Market, at 215 years the oldest continuously operating market in the United States and a place Washington must surely have visited during his occasional forays into the area. Although there's not much left to remind one of the Lexington Market of old, there's nothing to stop you from paying for your food with $1 bills featuring his portrait.

Baltimore's most lasting monument to Washington, of course, is the appropriately named Washington Monument, which for 155 years has been re-routing traffic at the intersection of Charles and Monument streets -- and helping Baltimore earn its nickname of "The Monumental City."

Erected in 1842, Baltimore's monument was the first major memorial to our nation's first president (it was preceded in 1827 by a much smaller pile of stones erected in Western Maryland's Boonesboro; phone [301] 791-4767 for information and directions). For a mere $1, you can take in the exhibits at the base, then climb 228 steps to the top. The windows at the summit are tiny, and the climb isn't easy, but the view is worth it.

On to Annapolis

In Annapolis, go first to the State House, the oldest state Capitol in continuous use and the place where, on Dec. 23, 1783, Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The scene is captured in a huge painting by Edwin White that hangs from a landing between the first and second floors.

The Old Senate Chamber, in which the resignation was accepted (and in which the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolution was later ratified) is preserved and open to the public, complete with a life-size mannequin that bears a distinct resemblance to our first president, and another painting, this one by Charles Willson Peale, that depicts Washington, Lafayette and Maryland's own Tench Tilghman at Yorktown.

Two Annapolis homes can claim ties to Washington. The Charles Carroll House (107 Duke of Gloucester St., on the grounds of St. Mary's church and school, 269-1737) was the home of Maryland patriot Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and frequent host to Washington. Although closed to the public until March, tours are normally offered Friday through Sunday.

At 124 Charles St. in Annapolis, the Jonas Green House ([410] 263-5892) can trace its roots back to 1738, when Jonas Green, a cousin and printer's apprentice to Benjamin Franklin, moved into the house with his bride, Anne Catherine. Among Green's customers was, according to the folks at the state Office of Tourism, George Washington, who no doubt was a faithful reader of the Maryland Gazette newspaper, which Green printed on his presses.

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