On the trail of Annapolis history

Council to vote on marker plan for key sites

April 02, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

In the latest move to focus on Annapolis' rich history, city officials want to install markers -- possibly with audio -- at selected sites with architectural or historical significance.

Alderman Richard E. Israel, who represents much of the city's historic district, introduced the ordinance, which is scheduled to be voted on during the City Council meeting April 14.

"What I tell people is that we cherish our collection of venerable old buildings, and we're proud of them," Israel said. "And we need to understand what happened there. We're not living in a museum. We want to make the point that the events happened, and lives were lived."

The legislation calls for the creation of a seven-member Historical Markers Commission that would be responsible for identifying buildings with architectural or historical value, creating and designing markers and content, and weighing whether to add an audio component to approved markers.

The commission would work with the city's Historic Preservation Commission, which would have final say over the design, material, color and descriptions of the markers. The expense of the markers would be split between the property owner and the city, Israel said.

The ordinance would build upon "Plaque Annapolis," an effort to affix plaques with historical context to 60 structures by the end of this year as part of city's 300th anniversary celebration, "Annapolis Alive!"

Karen Engelke, special events coordinator for the city, said a commission would be helpful in completing the substantial amount of work required for each plaque. Already, seven 10-by-12 inch bronze plaques are planned at sites within the National Landmark Historic District; they cost $450 apiece, paid for by the property owners.

Preserve America, a federally funded historic preservation grant program, has awarded the city $80,000 to create 20 informational exhibits of 24-by-40-inches throughout the city.

"In the cultural landscape around here, we have such a richness of stuff going on," Engelke said. "Certainly by formulating with a commission, it would give it some prominence. Throughout Annapolis, there's always been a great hunger to provide information to the public."

A narrative that has been prepared for Reynolds Tavern at 7 Church Circle reads: "Reynolds Tavern is one of the oldest taverns in Annapolis. William Reynolds, its original owner, leased this land, as well as most of the south side of West Street, from St. Anne's parish in 1747. Here, he ran a hattery and a tavern called `The Beaver and Lac'd Hat.' The tavern had many famous patrons, including George Washington, who reportedly developed a crush on Mrs. Mary Reynolds and was chased down Main Street by Mr. Reynolds. The ghost of Mary Reynolds is rumored to still haunt the tavern today, according to local legend."

Israel has identified at least two sites where he would like such markers to be installed: the corner of Conduit and Main streets, the site of the home of Charles Carroll, a barrister who authored Maryland's version of the Bill of Rights, and the house on Hanover Street once occupied by David Davis, who went on to become a Supreme Court justice.

Gregory Stiverson, a past president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, said though the city could fairly be referred to as "under-plaqued," he would prefer a conservative approach to any markers.

"Every time you put up a plaque, you're putting in something that inherently interferes, detracting from the authenticity of the place. ... On the other hand, we have 2 million visitors to Annapolis each year that want to learn."

For example, the William Paca House and Garden on Prince George Street, run by the foundation, has a plaque denoting its significance. Stiverson said other 18th-century Georgian-style homes would benefit from a marker that identified them.

He said that many visitors and residents may be unaware of the city's significance in the Civil War. McDowell Hall at St. John's College served as a federal hospital where thousands of fighters were treated.

"I don't know that we have a single plaque that talks about the Civil War history of Annapolis," Stiverson said.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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