Living History in Annapolis; Capitalize on Its Historical Architecture

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Goldberg Goff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

George Washington walked here. So did Lord Baltimore and William Paca.

Julie Brasch, a guide for Three Centuries Tours of Annapolis, sets the scene and the tone for the two dozen tourists: "Annapolis was the first peacetime capital of the United States. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, was signed in the State House. George Washington walked down West Street to do that. At [6 foot 2], he was literally head and shoulders above everyone else."

As the site of the U.S. Naval Academy and centuries-old city buildings, Annapolis is full of obvious history. There are also more arcane facts to learn - such as how the wooden State House dome was built. Taking a guided tour of Annapolis is an excellent way to see the sights and learn the facts with expert narration.

There are several ways to tour Annapolis. There is a two-hour self-guided tour where visitors can rent a headset and listen to narration by Walter Cronkite. There is an hourlong minibus tour, where guides take you to the sights on trolleys and buses. And there is the Three Centuries Tour, where costumed leaders use props and photos to bring history to life on their two-hour path.

"On any of the tours, you'll walk away knowing more about Annapolis than many of the people who live here," says Janet La France, a manager at the Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau, the starting point for the Three Centuries and minibus tours. "The tours are popular, and they are family friendly."

The tour guides also are quite knowledgeable. Ms. Brasch has been guiding tours for nine years. If visitors approach her with obscure questions - ranging from the intricacies of Georgian architecture to the specifics of the Treaty of Paris - she knows the answer.

The Three Centuries tour takes visitors outside some Annapolis landmarks and inside others. It begins at the visitors center, where Ms. Brasch gives an overview of Annapolis' role in history, its Colonial, Georgian and Victorian architectural styles, and why the city is laid out in circles.

"Annapolis has more Colonial buildings standing than Williamsburg," Ms. Brash says. "But ours are homes and businesses. In the 1970s, there was an opportunity to make Annapolis like Williamsburg. The people here said, 'No thanks, we want to live in our buildings.' The compromise was the formation of the Annapolis Historic District."

The tour continues with stops at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, the James Senate Building, past the back of the governor's mansion and the Thurgood Marshall monument. Visitors are then taken into the State House, where they learn how the marble floors were designed, the meaning of several portraits and how the two parts of the building (built in the late 1700s and early 1900s) match. Visitors can peek into the House and Senate chambers as Ms. Brasch sets the scene of George Washington resigning his commission here.

In the State House's side rooms, there are displays of American and Maryland history, including a tribute to the Wye Oak, the 460-year-old giant Maryland tree that toppled in a storm in 2002.

At the State House, Ms. Brasch also takes time to talk about daily life in Colonial Maryland. She passes around samples of money, explaining how each state had its own currency. She also explains her Colonial outfit, what men wore in the 1700s, and how the origin of many expressions came from that era. …