The 2005 Annapolis by Candlelight tour of homes opens its doors to the curious and showcases a variety of the architectural wonders in the city's downtown area

An open house of history

November 04, 2005|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN REPORTER

Behind the doors of 10 historic houses in downtown Annapolis, which will open to the public this weekend, the centuries have left their mark on the walls and the present-day inhabitants.

The 2005 Annapolis by Candlelight tour, a self-guided tour from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, offers those interested in architecture and history a glimpse into some of the city's most treasured dwellings.

Take George Brown, a film producer who recently moved into a rare 1774 terraced townhouse on 112 Duke of Gloucester St., in a cluster of Georgian residences originally known as Ridout Row.

"When my wife and I got married, we went to Williamsburg, and we've always wanted to live in an 18th-century house," Brown said. "The gold wallpaper is meant to suggest the old fashion of papering the walls with tea box wrapping."

"There's a new chandelier," he said, "and we have two Chippendale couches coming."

But a new plasma-screen TV has not yet found a place in the home's elegant living room. It sits stranded in a corner of the spacious townhouse.

"Where do we put that?" Brown wondered aloud.

"That's part of the point of having this tour," said Carrie Kiewitt, advancement director for the Historic Annapolis Foundation, which organizes and benefits from the event. "You see how people make these houses livable," she said.

The most tangible link to the house's past is a 1774 letter, reproduced and framed, in the hall near the front door.

Addressed to "Dear Madam" in a flowing hand, it is written by the original owner, John Ridout, to his mother-in-law, a Mrs. Ogle.

He expresses hope that the "present unhappy dispute" between the colonies and England will soon blow over.

All the tour's houses are within walking distance of each other and will be illuminated from the outside, Kiewitt said.

They range from pre-Revolutionary to a period house built in 1913 in a simple American Foursquare style with a porch.

Winder "Wick" Keating opens the door at 109 Conduit St., an 1880s Victorian Mansard house on the tour. Like Brown, he shows an unabashed love of his surroundings, telling visitors the bright new living-room paint color is called "peachy keen."

Two family portraits adorn and animate the relatively small living room.

The long-gone Araminta and William Sidney Winder, he said, are great-great-great grandparents to him rooted in Somerset County soil. One more step back in history, he said, to four greats on the Winder side, is the governor of Maryland during the War of 1812.

But who's counting? Keating laughs and says he enjoys sleuthing in the family Bible.

Around the corner at 124 Charles St. stands a house where seven generations of the same family have lived continuously. Even for Annapolis, local historians agree, that is an extraordinary stretch of time.

"You are now entering one of the oldest houses in Annapolis still standing," said Randall Robison Brown, who goes by "Randy" and lives there with his wife, Dede. "I'm the seventh generation."

There are certain places he stands in the well-preserved house, which has an antique kitchen fireplace and an 18th-century dining room, where he marvels at peering back in time.

Even in later life, the Class of 1957 Naval Academy graduate says, living among original wood floors, spun glass cabinets and white-washed walls and paint trim of his ancestors does not grow old.

Back in the days of 1738 or so, he said, master printer Jonas Green (who had worked for Benjamin Franklin) rented the place from the barrister Charles Carroll.

Green and his young wife from Philadelphia, Anne Catherine Hoof Green, made a name in the colonial capital because he became printer of the Maryland Gazette - a job his widow took on after he died.

Anne Catherine Hoof Green, an indomitable figure, was also named printer to the province of Maryland and lived until 1775.

Yet the house is officially named for Jonas Green, plaque and all.

Brown noted that his formidable female ancestor finally managed to buy the house, years after her husband died. "It's the Anne Catherine Hoof Green house," Brown said. "Jonas just lived here."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

Tickets for the Annapolis by Candlelight tour cost $35 and are on sale at the Museum Store, 77 Main St., today and tomorrow. Information: 410-267-7619.

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