One man's 200-year-old trash. . . Discoveries beneath London Town may become tourism treasure.

March 20, 1997

THERE WAS A TIME when London Town rivaled nearby Annapolis in buildings and population. Both were important colonial ports for tobacco exports. But when a new tobacco inspection law was passed in 1747, London Town for some reason lost its port status, while Annapolis did not.

Gradually, the community on the banks of the South River disappeared so completely that only one building, a big and outstanding red-brick English Georgian, remained standing. After a variety of uses, including 137 years as an almshouse, London Town Publik House became Anne Arundel County's first restoration project in 1970.

Since then, the landmark inn and its gardens have become a popular public museum.

The number of visitors has fairly exploded since word got out last April that archaeologists and volunteers were conducting historical digs at the site and discovering colonial relics.

After about a year of digging, experts think they can unearth the ruins of old London Town. If they are lucky, they might even be able to determine the reasons for the town's decline.

This is exciting stuff. It may eventually lead to the reconstruction of old London Town and transformation into something resembling Colonial Williamsburg. This would be an ironic twist of fate; Annapolis was John D. Rockefeller's first choice for a colonial restoration project before he wound up nearer the mouth of the Chesapeake in Virginia.

Strong public interest is a godsend to the private, non-profit London Town Foundation Inc., which took over maintenance of the landmark years ago from the county.

The foundation has created a new line of souvenirs and has even contracted with two local breweries to begin bottling "Rumney's Ale," named after London Town's old watering hole. This is appropriate: Some of the most interesting relics have been unearthed from the tavern's buried garbage heaps.

"History is very good business, but I don't think that was recognized until just a few years ago," a foundation official said.

"Heritage tourism" is a concept that Maryland officials believe is ripe to be cultivated. The London Town excavation site appears to be a destination tailor-made for this, a convergence of natural beauty, history and mystery.

` Pub Date: 3/20/97.

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