Behind Annapolis 21st century facade are four centuries worth of stories.
by Louis Llovio
When George Washington walked the streets of 18th century Annapolis, do you think he paid attention to the cobblestone streets? Did he recognize the history happening around him? Did he wander Annapolis full of wonder over where he found himself?
Or do you think he went about his business much as you do, too distracted by traffic and phone calls or his eras equivalent to notice?
If Washington missed some of the sights of Annapolis during his visits in the 1770s and 80s, he had an excuse: He was busy making history.
Whats your excuse?
I know Annapolis like the back of my hand, you might argue.
But when walking down Main Street or past the Naval Academy or maneuvering Church and State circles is part of everyday life, the grand history of this state capital, perhaps your hometown, becomes part of the landscape.
You know enough of the towns history to recite interesting tidbits to visiting family and friends.
Most everyone knows that George Washington roamed these streets, that the State House is the oldest working state house in the nation and that John Carroll was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence.
But did you know that General Washington often lost more money than an average citizen made in a year on bad bets on horse races run near todays West Street? Or that the acorn on top of the mast at the State House is supposed to bring wisdom in financial matters? But it was installed upside down, which might explain why money flows out instead of in. Or that John Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence only by default because, as a Catholic, he was a second-class citizen?
Such lore as this may amaze you and your visitors but its the currency of that peculiar class of Annapolitan known as tour guides.
You know the tour guides; you pass them every day. They drive the trolleys, captain tour boats and pose for pictures in their 18th century costumes.
These are the people who know the true secrets of Annapolis.
Walking through Three Centuries
|photo by Louis Llovio
In her homemade petticoat, corset and bonnet, Sylvia Lyverly describes life in the early days of colonial Annapolis.
On the day Sylvia Lyverly dropped her daughter off for her first day of kindergarten at St. Marys School, she saw her city with new eyes. For years on her drives around the historic district, Sylvia had seen costumed docents. But on this day, she took a particular interest.
It looked like a fun thing to do, she says.
So she joined their ranks as a guide with Three Centuries Tours. Today, Lyverlys daughter is a junior at St. Marys, and the woman who confesses to hating history in high school and avoiding it like the plague in college dresses as an 18th century wench, walking tourists through the streets and buildings of Annapolis.
In her homemade petticoat, corset and bonnet, Lyverly describes what life was like in the early days of Annapolis. From the bathing habits of townspeople once a year to the waste management system of the day out the window and down the sidewalk she vitalizes the facts reported in history books. She shows the city from the point of view of a commoner living in a seaport three centuries ago.
Lyverly averages one tour a week during the summer months, which is enough, walking as she does clothed in her thick costume that gets scratchy on sticky summer days. Touring picks up in the fall, when shell do five tours a week. Once spring hits, tours run non-stop.
I can do up to 10 a week, she says.
In the busiest time of the year, you get to the State House, she says, and have a thousand people inside. You have to jockey for position and then try to talk over the noise.
The winter months are spent training.
Docents meet at least once a week over the colder months of the year, perfecting their craft in lectures by historians, architects and archeologists.
Each docent takes a different path through history.
No two tours are ever alike, Lyverly says. Each docent has special or favorite stories weve picked up along the way that we incorporate into the tour.
Lyverlys favorite story is how George Washington sneaked a cup of British tea, then an illegal beverage. When a soldier in his command knocked at the door, the great general of the American Revolution hid the cup down his trousers. But the first president of the United States forgot the teacup, stood up and soon developed an un-squire-like stain in the front of his pants.
The kids especially love that story, she says. It puts a human face to this grand man of history.
If only, she says, grown-ups knew as much of their citys history as the kids do.
A lot of people live in Annapolis and dont pay attention, says the woman who admits having worn blinders herself.
Now she knows the truth, and so can you, if you walk with her.
There are so many interesting stories, Lyverly says. Every one of them is an 18th century story brought to the 21st century.
Driving the Tour Bus
|photo by Louis Llovio
The unenviable task of trying to explain 355 years of history while trying to maneuver the labyrinth of Annapolis traffic falls on the shoulders of Matt Grubbs.
The unenviable task of trying to explain 355 years of history while maneuvering the labyrinth of Annapolis traffic falls on the shoulders of Matt Grubbs.
As Grubbs will tell you, its not easy trying to point out the Tiffany window in St. Annes Church to a trolley full of Englishmen when the guy in the car behind is 10 minutes late for a meeting and honking.
We try to make sure we dont impede traffic, says Grubbs, who patiently moves out of the way so the cars behind him can pass. You wonder if he is so gracious with other drivers when hes in his own vehicle.
Actually, the trolley is his vehicle.
The one-year-old air-conditioned trolley smells much like an RV. Its highlighted with light wood paneling, deep red seat cushions and a dashboard with knobs to rival an airplane. Its a far cry from the single mini-bus Grubbs and his wife drove their first six years in business.
A marketing executive, Grubbs was downsized in the mid-1990s. He returned to his roots to pursue a passion hed discovered as a high school student, when he led walking tours for Historic Annapolis Foundation.
After months of careful market research, he decided Annapolis needed a driving tour.
On June 6, 1996, Discover Annapolis gave its first tour.
A lot of people who come to town, says Grubbs of why he chose to start a driving tour, like either a quick tour with just the highlights or are looking to get an overview so they can go back on their own by foot.
Discover Annapolis takes you from West Street out to the private historic homes along Spa Creek, around Main Street, down Duke of Gloucester and into Eastport. Then you speed to the overlook above the Severn River, back along the edge of the Naval Academy and around St. Johns College and the historic homes between City Dock and the Academy.
The tall, rail-thin former corporate executive leads the tour with a well-practiced wit, his dry and sagacious delivery polished with years of experience. But the well-rehearsed spiel should not be mistaken for indifference.
We travel and get to know the cities we visit, he says, irritated that locals dont appreciate local history. But we ignore the city that we live in. There is so much to see here, and it is so relevant to the history of the United States.
To lure locals aboard his trolley, Grubbs gives free rides to city residents. He learned the marketing ploy on a visit to Williamsburg, where the city hands out passes that get locals into the sites, free.
If Grubbs could get you to invest in just one bit of Annapolis history, he says that would be George Washingtons resignation of his commission in 1783, which set the precedent separating the military from the civilian government.
Its the biggest thing that ever happened to this town, says Grubbs.
Discover Annapolis doesnt cover that stop on their tour, though. Traffic would line up too far around State Circle.
Speaking in Historic Tones
Taking a walk through Annapolis is more fun with an experienced guide, especially when it happens to be Walter Cronkite. Hearing him tell the story of Annapolis, youd think he lived it.
Cronkite, who has for years kept a yacht in the area, is a good companion, and for five dollars he is more than happy to spend a couple of hours with you, courtesy of the Historic Annapolis Foundation.
A guide can alert you that the familiar house youre passing is the home where Francis Scott Key was married. A guide can teach you to see the State House with the wise eyes of history. A guide can tell you that the Old Treasury Building is the oldest working public building in the nation.
A guide knows that history was written in the homes along the quiet side streets of Annapolis: the William Paca House; the Hammond-Harwood House; Brice House; the Chase Lloyd House and many more.
A guide wont overlook the trivial highlights like Bladdens folly, named for the former Maryland governor who had to abandon his ambitious home construction when he ran out of money and the legislature refused him any more. The building is now the main building of St. Johns College, previously King Williams School founded in 1696.
And without a guide, how can you understand the Naval Academy?
From Bancroft Hall to the Navy Chapel, the Academy at one time was the home to one president, 18 members of Congress, four governors, three chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 50 astronauts and a Nobel Prize winner.
The right traveling companion will even tell you that Jimmy Carter, the only U.S. president to graduate from the Academy, spent most of his four years there in trouble for a sloppy dorm room.
Through the sights of Annapolis, Cronkites smooth-toned voice that for so many years gave us news of the world gives us the history of this capital city.
Isnt this guy almost 80? you think, as the voice goes on, never winded.
Of course Cronkites part of the walk is taped. You didnt expect the real thing for five dollars, did you?
As Seen from the Road
As Matt Grubbs admits, Cronkite and costumed interpreters are hard acts to follow. But driving history has rewards of its own.
By driving history, you may miss some of the details, but you cover much more in a single trip than by walking.
Dont risk the misadventure of driving Annapolis with a map on the seat next to you. Join a tour like Grubbs or bring a passenger to read the map and guidebook.
From the historic homes around West Street to the old shipyards in Eastport, you can track the progress of the city through the changing styles in architecture.
Historic Annapolis has awarded different-colored markers placed by front doors of homes with historical significance. Each color marker signifies a specific era, and guidebooks give you the story.
Escape the downtown traffic by crossing into the Maritime Republic of Eastport, which has seceded from the metropolis across the creek.
In the new Maritime Republic, youll see shipyards dating back to colonial times. More recently, PT boats for fighting in World War II were built and launched from these docks. To the uninitiated, the restaurants and yacht brokers that now rule the waterfront obscure those historic chapters. Nor could you tell from the homes and condominiums dominating the Republic that Eastport was once the home to both black and white working watermen.
Or leave Annapolis along the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy and cross the Severn River Bridge. Park your car at Annapolis overlook and walk down to the War World II Memorial, which itself offers a commanding view of the city and the water.
From this hilltop high above the Severn River, imagine 17th century Puritans gazing down, the Chesapeake to one side, the river running through the other and the wide expanse of farmland along the coast to the south. Todays view is dominated by the Naval Academy, but you can see the spires of the State House, St. Annes Church and St. Mary Church.
You see a lot in a little time by driving history, all without having to find a parking space.
As Seen by Water
By water, you absorb an entirely different perspective of Annapolis.
With 26 miles of shoreline, Annapolis has as much to show you in its rivers and creeks as along its sidewalks.
Whether you sightsee by sailboat out along the Severn River, by water taxi through one of the many creeks or along the Naval Academy, youll see some of the best views from the water.
A two-hour tour on the schooner Woodwind sails out along the Severn, slowly skirting the shore with long views of Bay Ridge, the old Navy Shipyards and Debtors Creek, the last so-named for the credit needed to pay for all the big boats and yachts. On a clear day, ships pass to and from Baltimore in the shipping lanes as if they were within easy reach. Even overcast and rainy days provide a whole new view of landmarks like the Bay Bridge.
Woodwind, the only sailboat touring Annapolis, runs three times a day from the Annapolis Marriott.
Water taxis, on the other hand, will take you anywhere you want, within reason. If you dont know where you want to go, the captain will lead the way.
The least you should do is take a taxi to the other side of the Harbor to see downtown from a sea captains point of view. The view of the Carroll House, up Ego Alley and Main Street to the State House and St. Annes is a postcard in three dimensions.
In addition to the taxi, Water Mark Cruises offers several tours ranging in price, schedule and duration.
The 40-minute tour aboard Harbor Queen of the Naval Academy and the Severn River offers views of the schools athletic fields, where the football and soccer teams practice summer and fall, to the inlet where the midshipmens sailboats are moored, out past the all-wood yard patrol boats, where the midshipmen learn seamanship.
Youll travel out to the edge of Greenbury Point. Then back toward the harbor, you pass several buoys, one that in the 1700s would have prevented George Washington from getting grounded on a sandbar. But hit it he did, so he spent the night on a barge waiting for high tide to carry him in.
Unlike Washington, your captain will navigate into the Harbor without becoming lodged or stranded. Whether he can run a nation in its infancy remains to be seen.
|photo by Louis Llovio
Captain Ken Kayes schooner Woodwind illustrates the living history of schooners on the Chesapeake.
At the helm, he looks more like an executive in a boardroom than either the schoolteacher he once was or the boat captain he now is.
Tall, thin, with close-cropped receding gray hair, Captain Ken Kaye motors the 74-foot, 50,000-pound schooner Woodwind from the docks of Annapolis out into the harbor.
He shouts orders to his crew with the easy cadence of an elementary school music teacher, which is what he was for 25 years before being forced into retirement when the music program in his school was shut down. At a a crossroads in life, Kaye chose to set off sailing. He commissioned Woodwind, left his home in Connecticut and moved to Annapolis.
For the last 11 years, Captain Kaye, with his daughter Jennifer, has sailed tourists along the shorelines of Annapolis.
There is not much talk of history on the Woodwind, but there is much to imagine and much to see. Sailing on the Chesapeake, like walking the close streets of Annapolis, is living history.
Long before Baltimore grew into an industrial seaport, Annapolis was Marylands main port of call for goods, from tobacco to slaves. The city and its culture have always revolved around the water.
Kayes schooner Woodwind illustrates the living history of schooners on the Chesapeake.
Each year on the Thursday after Columbus Day, Woodwind and 40 other schooners relive that history with the 130-mile Great Chesapeake Schooner Race from Annapolis to Norfolk, Virginia.
The race harkens back 200 years when schooners carried cargo between Baltimore and Norfolk. Schooners raced to port to first establish markets for their cargoes of tobacco, oysters, watermelons, peanuts, tomatoes and more. The first schooner to reach port got the best price for goods and return cargo.
|photo by Louis Llovio
George Washington Slept Here. In the 1700s, with no channel markers, the nations Founding Father spent the night on a barge grounded until the morning tide lifted him from the sandbar.
Kayes tour also includes a lesson in the art of sailing.
Forever a teacher, Kaye explains the boats every move with the patience learned explaining music theory to fourth graders. He hands over the helm to kids or adults. He allows visitors to raise sails and to help run the schooner.
Even with rain falling in sheets, he laughs and makes the best of it, explaining the procedure if the storm takes a turn for the worst. Which has happened.
Jokes are a big part of his repertoire, and he is particularly fond of puns.
Thats Green Point, he shouts over the rustling sails and the chop. I show you that because I didnt want this trip to be pointless.
When facing the Naval Academys Yard Patrol boats, he explains that their hulls are wooden because they were used as mine patrol boats in World War II. Mines are magnetic, so the wooden hulls protected sailors. We all know that a mine is a terrible thing to waste, he adds.
His students groan and giggle.
I enjoy the public, he says. Seeing kids and adults enjoy the experience makes the teacher in me want to work harder.
Keep an Eye to the Past
One advantage you have over George Washington is that he didnt spend a lot of time in Annapolis. And the time he did spend here, he was busy fighting a revolution and laying out the groundwork for a new nation.
Even if your work keeps you as busy as Washingtons did, as a resident of Chesapeake Country or even as a visitor you have the opportunity to see Annapolis one day at a time. Take advantage of that opportunity and see this historic town through new eyes. Be the person who can drive through town and identify the landmarks with just a glance.
Become the dinner guest who knows what the colony was originally called and when it became know as Annapolis. Get to know men like William Paca, who helped found not only Annapolis and Maryland but also the nation. Then find out why there are no portraits of his wife.
Walk the streets that Washington walked and find the watering holes where he stopped for a drink.
Whether you see it by land or by sea, by foot or by car or by boat, dont let Annapolis four centuries of living history pass you by.
For when youre in Annapolis, theres a story on every street.
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