Every day we Annapolitans walk, drive by, work and play on hundreds of years of Western history. Our city is an old, old city and one that has played an important role in the life of our nation even before it was conceived. But how many of us know more about our rich heritage other than a few well-worn anecdotes? This Place Through Time is The Sound’s new weekly feature that tells the story of our ancient city through the words and pictures of Annapolis’ own historians, one chapter at a time.
Since 1870, Maryland’s governors have lived across the street from the office in a home built by the state as the official governor’s residence. The state government sold the previous residence to allow expansion of the Naval Academy in the face of a threat to relocate the school if the campus could not be enlarged. In 1866, the legislature passed an act authorizing the governor, comptroller, and treasurer not only to sell the property but also “to procure other site and buildings in lieu thereof.”
By 1868, when the old residence was to pass into the hands of the Naval Academy, no action had been taken to provide a new home for the governor. A second act appointed a committee “with authority to purchase a lot or lots of grounds” and to cause “to be erected thereon a mansion for the Governor of this State.” The act appropriated $100,000 to cover the cost of the land and either remodeling of an old building or construction of a new one.
The committee – consisting of the governor, one senator, and three delegates – bought three lots that formed an oddly shaped parcel lying between School Street, Church Circle, Tabernacle Street (now College Avenue), Lawyer Street (now Lawyers Mall), and State Circle, for a total of $31,035.70. All the sales took place in mid-May and were recorded on the 8th of June.
James and Elizabeth Allen sold a lot at the corner of Church Circle and Tabernacle for $3,000. The price at first glance suggests a vacant lot, but the deed reveals that the Allens retained ownership of the buildings on the lot and agreed to remove them by the 1st of July. George and Maria Franklin sold their house and lot at the corner of Tabernacle and Lawyer Street for $10,000. The property of Matilda Green, fronting on Tabernacle between the Allens and the Franklins, sold for $18,000. None of the deeds described any of the improvements on the lots. We know only that the land was cleared for construction of a new governor’s residence.
The purchases plus settlement fees left a total of almost $69,000 for building. The committee contracted with architect Colonel R. Snowden Andrews of Baltimore to prepare a plan for the residence. Snowden designed a building in the Second Empire style, two and one-half stories high, with a full cellar and a mansard roof finished with patterned slate. As with many building projects, the final cost exceeded the authorized sum. In this instance, some of the extra charges were unavoidable when it proved to be impossible to heat the mansion from the central heating plant, thus requiring an internal heating system, and when it was realized that the original plan had not called for a stable.
William Black contracted to build the latter for $7,000 and then spent about twice that amount. Even so, the stable was less expensive than the iron railing around the grounds, which was added at a cost of $18,000 on the condition that the contractors take their chances on getting the legislature to authorize payment at the next session. On the other hand, the committee successfully submitted a report asking for appropriation of additional funds to furnish the mansion. The members argued that although “extremely anxious to avoid all unnecessary expense, . . . the size and finish of the House, over which we had no control,” made it necessary “to propose a seemingly large sum,” believing “that the people of Maryland desire that their Chief Magistrate shall have the necessary comforts and conveniences of life around him.”
If you look at the front of Government House today, you will not see the Second Empire design of Col. Andrews except in traces left in the brickwork over the windows. During the early 1930s, when Colonial Revival was the style and the Second Empire design was no longer in fashion, Governor Harry Nice presided over a major reconfiguration of his residence at a cost of $136,000, twice its initial price. Clyde M. Friz, another Baltimore architect, placed a neo-Georgian façade around the main block and flanked it with hyphens and wings in imitation of the city’s five-part Georgian mansions. The mansard roof became a steeply pitched gable roof, the Victorian porch was replaced by a classical pedimented entry, and the windows were reworked in the Georgian style. The rear of the house retains more of the original Victorian-era design, complementing the style of the fountain added during the Schaefer administration.
About the author:
Jean Russo is a native New Yorker who has lived in Maryland for many years. She has a Ph.D. in colonial history from The Johns Hopkins University, works part time for the Maryland State Archives and Historic Annapolis Foundation, and does volunteer and freelance work for most of the historical entities in town and in the Four Rivers Heritage Area. She is co-editor of Colonial Chesapeake Society and The Diary of William Faris . . . An Annapolis Silversmith. Ms. Russo is a founding member of the Annapolis History Consortium.
The Annapolis History Consortium is an informal organization of professional and amateur historians who meet about ten times a year to discuss issues, places, and events pertaining to area history. The more than one hundred members of the Consortium’s online group discuss issues and answer questions online.