Hammond-Harwood gifts

Five pieces have been donated to the 1774 Annapolis building

2 families return history to house

October 03, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

Though the Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis is one of the finest pieces of Georgian architecture in the United States, its last residents could not afford to feed themselves. Sympathetic neighbors left meals on the doorstep of Lucy and Hester Ann Harwood.

The reclusive sisters never married, and spinsters did not fare well without a male caretaker before the women's equal rights movement. They died without a will, and the historic home and its famous paintings and antique furniture went to the highest bidders at a 1926 auction.

The caretakers of the Hammond-Harwood House, now a museum, had recovered only 10 percent of its original furniture and portraits until this summer, when two families returned five pieces, four of which date to the 18th century.

The donations are important not just because of their monetary value - which the museum won't release for insurance purposes - but also because of the authenticity they lend to the exhibit of the city's early Colonial history.

"Objects that are original to the house are, by far, the most valuable because they can help tell the story of the occupants and how they lived," said Lisa Mason-Chaney, curator and assistant director of the house. "For a small museum like this, a gift of this size is very rare."

The Gaillard family donated a working tall case clock, two mahogany side chairs and a chest of drawers. The clock and the chest of drawers were made by John Shaw, a well-known Annapolis cabinetmaker in Colonial times, Chaney said. The house has been stocked with other John Shaw pieces, some of which are not original to the house, to give an authentic Maryland look.

The De Haas family donated a marble-topped washstand, which dates to about 1850.

All of the donations are on display except for the washstand, which does not fit the late 1700s theme, Mason-Chaney said. After the washstand is cleaned, it will be saved for a later exhibit, she said.

The house was built in 1774 for Matthias Hammond, 25, a tobacco planter who had inherited a fortune. William Buckland, an innovative architect of the time, designed a Georgian townhouse that was admired by Thomas Jefferson.

It is believed that Hammond never lived in the house, which was rented to a succession of tenants until Ninian Pinkney bought it in 1810 and resold it in 1811. The house changed hands several times until Buckland's great-grandson, William Harwood, inherited the home. Hester Ann Harwood, the last of his four children, died in 1924.

At the time of the auction, Annapolis women pitied the fact that Harwood did not seem to realize the value of her possessions, according to an account of the May 1926 auction by The Evening Sun. The 500 people who crowded the auction were so excited about the pieces that they bid on items sight unseen, including portraits by American artist Charles Willson Peale. The sale generated more than $20,000.

The Gaillard family bought the tall case clock for $785. The clock, which dates to 1750, had a mahogany case with light and dark wood inlays. The clock's scroll pediment at the top was a Shaw signature, as were the colonnettes that flanked the dial.

Barbara Gaillard McNear, 82, of Gibson Island and her four children donated the furniture because she was moving to a smaller home on Cape Cod, Mass. In 1991, McNear had donated a Pembroke table made by John Shaw. The furniture was acquired by the grandmother of McNear's late husband, David Gaillard.

"I felt it was the right thing to do," McNear said about the donation. "My children were all pleased to do that."

Herman De Haas, emeritus professor of biochemistry at the University of Maine, donated the washstand because his wife had talked about doing so before she died March 26. Eugenie Lee De Haas had received the table from her mother, Eugenie Blandin Lee, who used to stay with Hester Ann Harwood when she went to dances at the Naval Academy.

Eugenie Lee De Haas had last year donated a receipt book and a picture of Harwood to the Hammond-Harwood House. The washstand, which was used in the family bathroom, was donated in August, said Herman De Haas.

"We always intended to send it back," he said.

The furniture is in good condition. The chairs were kept in a foyer of the house and never used, McNear said. The veneer on the chest, which the family did use, has popped off in several spots but the family kept the pieces, and they can be reattached, Chaney said. The washstand has a small nick in the marble, but is otherwise pristine.

Mason-Chaney said that she is glad that the families cared more about history than keeping the pieces in the family. "They know we won't get rid of them," she said. "This is where they belong."

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