Fixing the house Carroll built

Renovation will allow mansion's front door to open for the first time in 130 years

May 24, 2006|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN REPORTER

Carroll House to open doors A section of the Charles Carroll House, owned by one of Maryland's four signers of the Declaration of Independence, is undergoing a rare dose of demolition in Annapolis - just to give it more liberty, organizers said.

Getting rid of an awkward exterior addition this week will bring the shuttered mansion's lines to light and will soon allow the front door to be opened for the first time in 130 years, said Sharon Kennedy, a trustee of the nonprofit Charles Carroll House Inc.

The house the Carroll family built - a massive Georgian pile of bricks - is being separated from a rectory, part of the St. Mary's Parish complex on lower Duke of Gloucester Street.

What's coming down is a three-story, rough-hewn passageway made of an asphalt roof, wood and aluminum siding. It was added after the Roman Catholic church's Redemptorist order of priests acquired the acres around the house in the 1850s.

Glenn Campbell, a historian with the Historic Annapolis Foundation, watched the destruction with a smile.

"The house had so much added over the years and this is taking something away," Campbell said. "This is getting closer to the way it was and helps the understanding of this as a house."

Monday's job was a breakthrough for the $414,000 restoration and stabilization project on the 18th-century gem, which once housed a Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, as a guest while soldiers were camped nearby.

Next month's completion of the project, which began in November, will enable the house to be reopened to the public for the first time in several years, if only on the weekends.

It will be easier to tell the story of the fiercely ambitious Carrolls, who as America's premier Catholic family, were in the vanguard of religious tolerance in the young republic.

"This day was a long time coming," Kennedy said. "He [Carroll] created one grand statement of a house, with terraces and gardens, embellishing what his father, Charles Carroll [of Annapolis], and grandfather Charles Carroll [the settler] had done."

Today, the house still drops hints of being the most imposing residence in the state capital, even if stripped to bare bones on the inside.

The exterior triangular pediment looms over a modest room with a fireplace, an arched early Federal window and heart-of-Southern-pine floors. Carroll liked to call the retreat "the little room with my books."

Symbolically and architecturally, removing the obstacle to the facade's door will make the dwelling look more like itself again, several onlookers said.

Jane L. Jackman, who has coordinated docents for the house since 1992, said the creaking three-story passageway between the house and the St. Mary's Parish rectory was no longer appropriate. The priests who live next door no longer use the adjacent historic house for recreational and other activities.

"It's been a very useful eyesore, but now parishioners, visitors, and [St. Mary's School] students can see the front of the house," Jackman said.

Contrasting the better-known William Paca house and garden, another Annapolis townhouse that belonged to a Declaration signer, Kennedy said the Carroll house is the largest and only multigenerational house among the state's four signers - all of whom lived in capital city.

Carroll, because of his prominence, had been the biggest enemy target of them all as a patriot. The wealthy slave owner was an active agitator for independence, a U.S. senator and the only Catholic signer of the Declaration in the Philadelphia in 1776.

John J. Tower, president of the company doing the preservation and demolition work, said that Carroll's small library with a fireplace had a good view of Spa Creek and may have been a lookout of sorts.

"This was known as Carroll's Creek," he said. "And he probably breathed a small sigh of relief to see that the British weren't coming."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

The Charles Carroll House will be open from noon to 4 p.m. June 4. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $5, and $4 for students and seniors.

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