Keeping focus on city history

Federal grant worth $80,000 will be used to develop exhibits of Annapolis' past

September 24, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Annapolis was awarded an $80,000 federal grant last week from the National Park Service to develop archaeological exhibits in several historic buildings as a component of the 300th anniversary celebration of the city's charter in 2008.

Organizers expect that the displays of artifacts such as buttons, ceramic shards and rusty kitchen implements will be placed inside the edifices where they were excavated.

Sites identified in the Preserve America grant are the Reynolds Tavern, the Brice House, the Jonas Green House Bed and Breakfast, the Maynard Burgess House and the Calvert House Hotel -- all within walking distance of each other in the historic downtown district.

The grant, which requires the city to provide matching funds, will also support free-standing plaques in about a dozen other locations that explain pieces of the city's historical puzzle.

"We don't tell our stories so well," Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said. "This would be an opportunity to tell and showcase what they've dug up in different places."

The materials were unearthed by a University of Maryland, College Park project, Archaeology in Annapolis, led by anthropology professor Mark P. Leone. Since 1982, his teams of students have unearthed a narrative of the city over centuries that includes the lives of slaves and free blacks.

Leone started his investigation of city structures when the African-American slave caches and remains uncovered early in the project -- at sites including the Reynolds Tavern basement on Church Circle -- were not yet understood.

In a recently published volume, The Archaeology of Liberty in an American Capital, Leone said he later discerned the religious significance of hoodoo bundles left near the hearth on the ground floors of houses as evidence of spirit traditions brought over by slaves from Africa.

The Brice House, owned by the International Masonry Institute, is a particularly rich trove of such symbols, Leone said.

"There are some remarkably good remains of a West African cosmogram, a safe space or a place that was powerful spiritually," he said. "We found marked beads, matchsticks, feathers, which we could re-create."

The Maynard Burgess house, owned by the city, illustrates middle-class free black life in the 19th and 20th centuries, officials said.

In the Calvert House Hotel on State Circle, the aim is to expand understanding of the important pre-Revolutionary ruins underground and enhance the current exhibit of its 1720s greenhouse and heating system.

The Green House is a local landmark for housing the print shop operated by Jonas and then his widow, Catherine Green. They published the colorful, politically influential Maryland Gazette, one of the first newspapers in the American Colonies.

Leone and Chuck Weikel, the director of the Annapolis Charter 300 celebration, explained that the concept is in tune with the city as a "museum without walls," a phrase coined by St. Clair Wright, a leading preservationist.

"The cool thing is that you don't have to go to a museum to see this stuff," Weikel said. "This is the keystone to building an outstanding series of events in 2008."

Leone said the linked exhibits housed in their own environments are in part a thank-you note to Annapolis.

"We've never found an adequate way to give the materials back to the city," Leone said from his university lab. "This is a public presentation of scholarly life that will tell you something worth knowing in a way that is inviting and readable."

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