AT the National Museum, the old building, there is a child’s christening robe, of white silk brocade, a robe so delicate and attractive that it would draw attention even if it were not associated with any known individual. Its interest is therefore immensely added to when it is learned that it was the christening robe of George Washington.
Near it is a uniform, so fine as also to attract attention; a Continental General’s uniform, with blue coat, buff waistcoat and breeches, and a buff turned-over high military collar. The high-cut military coat has buff-facings, with ten big brass buttons on each side and there are a dozen smaller ones down the waistcoat. This is the uniform in which General Washington appeared before the Continental Congress in Annapolis to resign his military commission at the close of the Revolution. And you are overwhelmed to realize that there could be such a, span in human life as between this christening robe and the wearing of this Continental uniform. And this reflection adds zest to a pilgrim-age to Annapolis.
Washington is left by motor, by way of Pennsylvania Avenue, leaving the Congressional Cemetery on the left and crossing the bridge over the Anacostia. It is a hilly way and you shortly come to where there rises beside the road, on a commanding height, a fort, Fort Dupont, still well defined and cared for, and with the fort covered with tall trees and greenery. This was one of the Civil War ring of forts built for the defense of Washington, and in its location, somehow suggests Mont St. Valerien, protecting Paris. Fruit trees are in blossom about the fort, peach and apple.
Continuing there is a little cottage bowered in lilacs and honeysuckle thickets which are a feature of Maryland highways ; and you begin to realize that this is a very attractive road. There are fieldbeds of daffodils for the street flower venders of the city, and a neighborhood of small market-garden holdings.
Motor-loads of little calves are going to their fate. There are old Maryland houses, set in the midst of farms, with black-boled locust trees, with galleries and outside kitchens and old flower beds and with old shaggy cedars along the highways. Farther along there are other farmhouses, with outside chimneys built against their ends, with tangles of vines on them. The houses are far apart as you get well away from Washington and into the region of salt water inlets and now and then there are seen the quaintest old log cabins, perhaps old slave quarters.
As we approach the neighborhood of Marlborough we come to a succession of big, old houses mostly brick, Maryland manors, as such places are called, set well back from the road, acre surrounded, amid fine old trees. One old house at the edge of the town stands on a hillside surrounded by a circle of giant oaks. If you are so fortunate as to live in this county you would call yourself a “Prince Georgian” fascinating name!
Upper Marlborough is the principal town on the road between Washington and Annapolis, a queer, quaint eighteenth-century county-town, at a meeting of roads, with fascinating old houses, with paling-enclosed gardens and with enough of modern banks and garages to keep in touch with the times. A tremendous ancient elm, the gate-tree, guards a school house where stood the home of the town hero, Dr. Beanes, whose bravery had the unthought-of result of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner. Had there been many more such men the British army would never have reached the Capital.
A causeway road leaves Upper Marlborough twisting with many bridges through swamp land. And you see such queer looking growths in these queer open swamps that if you were told they were lotus and papyrus you would hesitate before disbelieving it.
On crossing a river you enter a gravel country whose roads are well and naturally made. And as the highway goes through old Harwood, it loops and bends around the ends of deep ravines; and you see this must be a terminal moraine of an old ice age to account for such curious deepness.
Eight miles out from Annapolis is a lone brick church, a little old church on a knoll, with giant oaks, with old graves around it hidden in the white myrtle which blossoms wild and free over the field. There are old armorial bearings and titled names and an air of the long ago past; it represents church and state; it stands for the time when they were united, and just such little brick Episcopalian churches still exist all through Maryland.
Approaching Annapolis the road runs through estuary country and over the long South River bridge, a region of enchanting views; there are sail-boats with patched sails swelling in the breeze; there are seine-poles in the water; and there is an old low-set houseit seems as if everything is back a hundred yearsand in its dooryard is a long ancient bird-house on four high posts, with a roof along whose lower edge are twenty little doors for the birds to go in.
Entering Annapolis, the attention goes instantly to its center, the State House, one of the three remarkable eighteenth-century State Houses of Americathe other two being the old red brick State House of Boston and Independence Hall of Philadelphia. Again and again, one is amazed by the splendid building effects of that age.
The Annapolis State House from its position on a knoll draws the narrow streeted town to itself as a center. It is a beautiful building of brick with a great quantity of white to relieve it. There are little white pillars at the entrance, with gable and oval window above, and over all the huge white dome rising in great towering octagon gradations until it becomes the great liberty cap of the whole town.
Annapolis has atmosphere. It has an air. It has always had atmosphere and an air. Since the days of its founding, far back in the sixteenhundredsfor it is one of the oldest of American towns ,and at the same time keeps up an active modern lifeit has always been a little capital, in fact as well as in formality. Annapolis is, as it has from the first been, alert, gay, cheerful, mellow, composed, serene, a town of happiness, a town of social life.
Wherever you look, wherever you go, there is something of interest. Turn down one street and it is the Duke of Gloucester Street; try another and it is Prince George and the next King George ; in the church you find King William’s gift of silver. Turn into Main Street, and at once you see a red garden wall enclosing a green garden, a yellow house, gambrel-roofed, a captain’s walk upon the top, remindful that this has always been -a port; a house over which the State House dome rounds against the blue sky; a very old house this, now the Elks homeand you want to be an elk to live in such an animal house!
The atmosphere of Tilghman, Lafayette, Charles Carroll of Carrollton and their friends, is intangibly felt. Charles Carroll was born in this town and was looked upon by many as the richest man in America when he signed the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, always curious about his fellow-man’s affairs, wrote immediately before the Revolution that Carroll’s income was then ten thousand pounds sterling. The old Carroll house is now a home for young priests. In the old days the family always maintained a resident priest and an upstairs private chapel.
The house is large and dignified, and very plain, and stands in the midst of broad and terraced grounds overlooking the tidewater, whose quaint gazebos are now only billowy masses of box. Carroll was the last survivor of the honored band of “Signers.” George Washington was on terms of social intimacy with him and diarizes, in 1771, that he dined with Charles Carroll “and went to the ball.”
The town and its immediate neighborhood are dotted with fine old mansions. Sloping to Spa Creek are the broad grounds of Acton, which has in a high degree retained its original setting. It is a double-front-gabled house with pillared portico.
On the narrow town streets are an astonishing number of beautiful brick eighteenth-century houses, with large central portion, flanked by a wing on either side, balanced and alike. Some of these are now hotels, some are endowed homes, some are still private houses. One of the houses is a stately Colonial mansion now occupied by an order of nuns. This is the Scott mansion, and has been looked upon as the original of Winston Churchill’s Carvel Hall. The novelist himself, however, has always declared that he had no single house in mind.
The old town of Annapolis abounds in box gardens and old trees and there are enough retired admirals and commodores to preserve the old traditions and keep the box and the daffodils dreams of beauty about the old houses, and there is many a water view of unusual charm across some one or another of the sparkling inlets. The town is a revel of fine doorways, staircases, fireplaces and paneling.
The old waterside with its oyster boats and memories of shipping and old shipping fortunes is rich in tradition and tales of important happenings. They had a highly impressive tea-party here in 1774. The Peggy Stewart, Annapolis owned, sailed in with two thousand three hundred and twenty pounds of tea, and the townfolks, led by Charles Carroll insisted that the boat and its cargo be burned! Thoroughly frightened by the fury of his fellow Annapolitans the owner ran the boat ashore and himself set fire to the costly material, the ship and all the tea. His sick wife watched from the home window. Liberty lovers could often show themselves very cruel.
The Naval Academy is on the waterfront of Annapolis. It was not established until forty years after the Military Academy at West Point. From the first it made itself seem part of the town, and the blue clad young men add much to the aspect not only of the great academy grounds but of the old narrow streets of Annapolis. The Naval Academy is not away from the town but so intimately placed at the foot of old mansion-bordered Maryland Avenue as to seem closely a part of Annapolis.
The sparkling salt water stretches off for miles. The white gulls circle and cry. and dive. The Academies at Annapolis and West Point are alike in having retained the beautiful inspiring surroundings in which they were first placed. There is nothing sordid with either, such as has crept into the surroundings of even Harvard and Yale.
You are fortunate if you are there when picturesque boat practice is in progress on the waterfront.
The Naval Academy grounds are a large white city with the white stone buildings that within re-cent years have been built. The great Bancroft Hall is the principal structure and it is of enormous size and solidity. Its entrance is approached by broad granite steps and faces immediately upon a great, long dazzling terrace, made for effectiveness and for the assembling of the midshipmen.
At the entrance are magnificent ancient patina-green cannon, cannon that are personally named and given inscriptions and coats of arms, cannon of French and Spanish make, brought here from the Spanish Main, cast in a time, the first half of the seventeen-hundreds when cannon making was one of the fine arts. On entering the building you see corridors a tenth of a mile long, leading right and left to the dormitories, and traversing a great marble corridor you mount a great granite stair-case and enter a superb assembly room called Memorial Hall. It is a magnificent awe-inspiring hall, barrel-roofed in white stone with pillars at either end and a fine polished oak floor. Its great windows reaching to the floor give great views of the new parade ground and out over the water, the Severn, with its green headlands and landlocked beauty. The walls are richly impressive with portraits of American naval heroes of many wars.
The Chapel is green domed, modern and dominating, frankly showing the influence of the chapel of the Hotel des Invalides. The crypt beneath the chapel is circular and very impressive and well fulfills the purpose for which it was made, the holding of the body of our country’s greatest naval hero, John Paul Jones, brought here from Paris after having been lost for a century and then sought for and discovered by Ambassador Porter.
The round pillars of the crypt, the black and white marble, the heavy plain impressive sarcophagus, the path around the crypt behind the pillars of Pyrenees marble, beside heavy robes covered with gold hanging from pillar to pillarmake a fitting memorial.
Leaving the grounds through the gated entrance you are back instantly within the narrow streets of Annapolis. Returning to the State House, this time to enter, you go into the old Senate Chamber, forever to be famous as the room in which General Washington resigned his commission as General. He had been received with great honors, on his arrival in Annapolis where the Continental Congress was then sitting, and men and women of the highest distinction crowded the room and its gallery to witness the solemn ceremony.
It is a beautiful room about square, gloriously corniced, with five broad windows slat-shaded and with deep paneled window-seats. A room with a great throated fireplace, probably a very practical affair on the December day in 1783 in which Washington resigned his commission.
The speaker’s seat is in a niche, up three steps, a niche set within an elaborately designed frame with curving top and pointed pediment. Opposite the speaker’s seat is a little gallery supported by beautiful pillars above which is a long fillet of laurel leaves, a design which is also used on the mantel and over the speaker’s niche.
When that migratory monarch Louis Philippe met Healy, the American artist, he expressed his immense admiration for George Washington and commissioned him to copy and send to the Tuileries, Gilbert Stuart’s best portrait of the first President. When Daniel Webster was in Europe he met King Louis Philippe a number of times and the king told him that he had been present on the occasion of the ceremony at Annapolis, when Washington resigned his commission to Congress. Louis Philippe both spoke and understood English and told of every de-tail of Washington’s appearance, so profoundly was he still impressed after all those years. He declared to Webster that Washington was the most extraordinary man that ever had lived; a great deal for a Frenchman to say; and that the speech of resignation at Annapolis had: “for sublimity and grandeur never been surpassed.”