Annapolis: where history, fun unite

It's easy to sneak in a little learning as you explore Maryland's capital

August 08, 2002|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Annapolis oozes history from every street corner.

The city, founded in 1649, became the capital of Maryland in 1695. And for 10 months in 1783 and 1784, it was the first peacetime capital of the United States.

With the start of school only a few weeks away, a day or two spent enjoying the sights in Annapolis could be a fun way to ease your youngsters back into the learning mode. It's easy to sneak in lessons about American history as you explore the cobblestoned streets of this charming waterfront city.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson spent time in Annapolis. It was here that Congress ratified the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. Kunta Kinte, the ancestor of author Alex Haley, arrived here on a slave ship.

And all four Marylanders who signed the Declaration of Independence - William Paca, Thomas Stone, Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll - had houses here.

A natural place to begin your tour of the city is at the Maryland State House. Maryland boasts the nation's oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use, with state business taking place at the same place since 1779.

Free tours of the building take visitors through the various rooms, with guides showing them architectural features and explaining some of the important events that took place at the site. The tours are offered at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily, except on Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day. The State House is closed on Christmas Day.

On the tour, you and your kids will learn that the building has the largest wooden dome ever built without benefit of nails, and that it was the home of the nation's first peacetime national government, housing the Continental Congress in 1783 and 1784.

In the Old Senate Chamber in 1783, George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, an event commemorated with a painting and a bronze floor plaque in the room. In January 1784, the Treaty of Paris was ratified in the same room, officially ending the Revolutionary War.

Kids may enjoy the large wooden ship in the front hallway. The 15-foot Maryland Federalist was built in 1987 to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the state's ratification of the U.S. Constitution. It is an exact replica of a ship that was built by Baltimore merchants in 1788 and presented to George Washington as a gift. Unfortunately, that ship sank in a hurricane six weeks after it was given to Washington.

Like the original Federalist, the new one is loaded with Maryland symbols. It has seven sails, because Maryland was the seventh state to join the union. It is painted in the state colors of black, white, red and gold. It is decorated with pictures of the state flower, the black-eyed Susan, and the state tree, the Wye Oak, which was destroyed in a thunderstorm in June.

Also of interest is the small Maryland flag on the wall of the Rotunda. It went with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins on the first manned trip to the moon in 1969.

Call 410-974-3400 for tour information and arrangements, or 410-280-0445 for general Annapolis visitor information.

Historic homes

A hotbed of activity during the Revolutionary War and its aftermath, Annapolis is loaded with historic houses, including the Charles Carroll House at 107 Duke of Gloucester St., and the Chase-Lloyd House at 22 Maryland Ave. Both were originally owned by Declaration of Independence signers.

One of the nicest homes to visit with kids is the William Paca House and Garden at 186 Prince George St. This house, once owned by Declaration signer and Maryland governor William Paca, was constructed between 1763 and 1765.

Young children probably won't appreciate the 45-minute tour of the home's interior, but they most likely will enjoy the beautiful gardens that include terraces, bridges, a vegetable garden, a bathhouse and a lily pond. The home and gardens were opened to the public in 1973, and have been restored to reflect what life was like in the 1700s. The gardens, in particular, were created based on research by the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

The house is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 24-25. Call 410-263-5553 for more information and for hours in January and February. Admission is $8 for adults; $5 for children 6 to 17. The cost includes an audio-guided tour of the garden, which explains the historical significance of the various elements.

On the waterfront

The heart of Annapolis was and still is the City Dock, a bustling harbor that has been in operation since Colonial times. The dock is lined with shops and restaurants and is known as "ego alley" because of all the luxury boats that are moored there.

It may be hard to believe, but today's upscale setting was once a point of entry for slave ships arriving from Africa.

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