Home tells part of Annapolis story

Private owners to sell Peggy Stewart house

August 29, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The year was 1774 when an angry mob gathered outside a grand house on the Annapolis waterfront, erecting a gallows at the front door for owner Anthony Stewart -- a threat to hang the merchant if he refused to destroy his ship and its cargo of 2,320 pounds of English tea.

As the story goes, Stewart paced the hardwood floors of his home, the crowd outside growing angrier and louder, while his wife struggled to give birth in an upstairs bedroom. Finally, he agreed to torch his ship, the Peggy Stewart, echoing the 1773 Boston Tea Party and galvanizing Maryland patriots in the fight for freedom.

In the annals of Maryland history, the burning of the Peggy Stewart is integral to the colonists' revolutionary fight. And the house -- which, like the ship, was named for the Stewarts' daughter -- has been a key part of the patriotic tale.

And you can buy it. The Peggy Stewart house at 207 Hanover St. is for sale for $1.85 million.

Maryland historians say the house is a rarity -- even in a state capital with a renowned historic district boasting dozens of other well-preserved Colonial homes.

"This is a house of quite a bit of historical importance," said Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland's chief archivist. "It is symbolic of the building of the opposition to Great Britain and the importance of the revolutionary movement in Maryland."

In addition to its role in the Annapolis tea party and Stewart's fiery business reversal, historians such as Papenfuse value the Peggy Stewart for other famous occupants -- Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, a pre-revolutionary leader and statesman who signed the Constitution, and Thomas Stone, who joined John Hancock in affixing his name to the Declaration of Independence.

The house is the only home of a Maryland signer of the Declaration remaining in private hands. Three others in Annapolis -- the Chase-Lloyd home of Samuel Chase, and the Charles Carroll and William Paca houses -- are museums.

The Peggy Stewart's owner, Donald Zuchelli, 63, president of Annapolis-based international real estate company ZHA Inc., said he is selling the 6,000-square-foot home because his four children are grown and it is too big for him and his wife, Elaine.

"It's a trophy property," he said. "And it's really high maintenance if you want to take care of it properly."

A successful planter, Thomas Rutland, built the 2 1/2-story home on narrow, bricked Hanover Street in 1764, at a cost of about 2,200 British pounds. With its symmetrical design, the Peggy Stewart house was constructed in the Georgian style popular in England at the time and exported to the Colonies.

It has five fireplaces, four bedrooms -- although the number has fluctuated through remodeling over the years -- and a basement floor paved in part with bricks from the streets of London that captains crossing the Atlantic used as ship ballast, Zuchelli said.

Rutland never lived in the house. He leased it, then sold it in 1772 to Jenifer, who sold it to Stewart later that year.

In the hands of Stewart, a Loyalist, the house was almost destroyed by a mob, even though the merchant claimed he did not know about the cargo of tea until the ship neared the Annapolis harbor.

Angry patriots did not believe his defense, and as Stewart houseguest John Galloway wrote shortly after the burning, they were "persuaded" from their threat "of tarring and feathering him with a good deale of difficulty."

Stewart never got over the burning of his ship and moved back to his native England in 1779. His wife sold the house back to Jenifer.

Thomas Stone bought the property in 1783 and lived there for four years before he died. The home changed hands several times after that, undergoing a massive renovation in 1894 that included altering the roof and wiring for electricity.

From the 1930s to 1952, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education used the house as its headquarters. Zuchelli said the board also renovated the exterior, tacking on a Victorian-style porch and balcony to the front, which the next owner, banker J. Pierre Bernard, removed.

Bernard, president of the Annapolis Banking & Trust Co., restored the house to its former Georgian style and added a sun room in the back.

In 1963, the house drew public interest again when the U.S. Naval Academy considered buying three blocks of Hanover Street for expansion.

The Historic Annapolis Foundation lobbied state legislators to save the building and started a letter-writing campaign that "according to oral tradition, flooded the White House with letters from Annapolitans," said Glenn E. Campbell, the group's education coordinator. Naval Academy officials backed down later that year.

Zuchelli became Peggy Stewart's 13th owner in 1988. Zuchelli -- a military history buff -- said buying the house for $1.2 million was exhilarating.

"I was overwhelmed by the house and its history," he said. "But I was also overwhelmed by the condition of the house. But Elaine and I felt that we could bring this house back to a trophy property."

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