By Susan Nolan
As an English colonial settlement, London Town on the scenic South River, is old—dating back to 1683.
As a museum, however, Historic London Town is just hitting its stride. With this year marking the 51st anniversary of the founding of site, its future is bright. At Friday night’s Golden Gala, volunteers, staff and supporters turned out in record numbers to pay homage to the organization’s distinguished past while raising money for projects underway and on the horizon.
“The Golden Gala is our most successful fund-raising event to date,” says Deputy Director Lauren Silberman. She estimates over $55,000 was raised.
London Town rose to prominence as a colonial seaport and center of trade in the early 18th century, but then rapidly declined as Annapolis and Baltimore grew. By the end of the American Revolution, few buildings and residents remained.
Today the park consists of just a quarter of the original 100-acre town. The county began to work on converting the site into gardens in the 1960s and a decade later the museum was born.
In 2017, the London Town Foundation board approved a Capital Improvement Plan to create a 10-year strategy to further enhance the 23-acre property. Now, midway through a decade of intensive renovations and expansions, Silberman and executive director Rod Cofield stand ready to see the plan to fruition.
The historic area includes the William Brown House and reproductions of a carpentry shop and a lower middle-class home called the Lord Mayor’s tenement.
“The work on the William Brown House has been one of the biggest accomplishments so far,” says Cofield referring to the massive 18th century brick tavern. Over the past 5 years, the building has undergone work to mitigate water damage and to reinforce attic supports. The electrical system, including HVAC, has been updated. Porches on the south and river sides and the exterior door leading to the tavern room have been repaired.
With the physical work to the structure nearly complete, the William Brown House has reopened for tours, and the staff is expanding the interpretation of the site. “We are creating a more inclusive presentation for the historic area,” says Silberman.
For decades, Historic London Town has been committed to researching and sharing the story of its colonial residents—enslaved, indentured and free, and by Maryland Day 2023 (March 25), the interpretation will include information on the Almshouse Period. “The William Brown House was used as the county’s almshouse house from 1820 to 1965. That’s most of the house’s history, and yet, it is a period we haven’t fully explored or shared with our visitors,” Silberman explains.
School tours make up a large percentage of Historic London Town’s annual visitors. By late fall, the museum plans to start construction on an education pavilion with a classroom and covered lunch area to accommodate the growing number of student groups. “Our need for a pavilion is tremendous. We are booked for the remainder of the school year,” states Silberman, “and we are already scheduling school tours for next year.”
Restoring and improving the property’s waterfront is another undertaking that will require time, planning and funding. “Our current dock is 50 years old,” says Cofield. “We want a dock large enough to accommodate tall ships for public programs.”
Silberman adds that improvements made along the waterfront will also be more ecologically friendly as the field of environmental science has grown over the past 50 years.
Increasing signage in the gardens and making pathways more accessible are important projects for the near future. “The plan calls for accessible pathways in the historic area first and then the gardens. Our goal is to give as much access as possible to anyone who wants to enjoy the site,” says Silberman.