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Home of the State Capitol, St. John's College and the US Naval Academy, Annapolis has a long and proud maritime history. Known as "The Sailing Capital of the World", this beautiful colonial style city sits at the mouth of the Severn River on the western shore just south of the Chesapeake Bay bridge.

The capitol of Maryland is Annapolis. Originally called Providence when settled by Puritans, it was later called Anne Arundel Towne after the wife of Lord Baltimore, owner of the proprietary colony ( See page on Maryland and the Calvert Family ). When Sir Francis moved the capital from St. Mary's City, he renamed it in honor of Princess Anne, heir to the throne. Sir Francis modeled the new city after the grand capitals of Europe with circles and radiating streets. One of the circles contains St. Anne's Episcopal Church and the other holds the State House. The design of the city was so admired by George Washington during his many visits that he had Pierre L'Enfant incorporate it into the nation's capital. In part, we can thank them for the difficult traffic problems in both cities today. In 1708 the then Queen Anne chartered the city and her royal badge, the entwined thistle of Scotland and the Tudor rose of England, can be seen in the Annapolis flag of today.

The capitol building, built in 1772 - 1779 , is the oldest capitol in continuous legislative use in the United States. As the site of the Continental Congress from November 1783 until August 1784, it is the site of the acceptance and signing of the Treaty of Paris formally ending the War for Independence. Known by even fewer people, it is the location of the resignation of General George Washington from the Continental Army, a critical antecedent to the establishment of the Republic. At the time, many called for Washington to become monarch of the new nation. He had a large, loyal army that might of allowed him to do so, as well as the support of a good portion of the populace. The title of Father of the Country is well earned for this act of faith in the people to govern themselves. The birth of the Republic was ensured in the chambers of the Maryland State House.

The dome of the State House building stands on the highest hill in Annapolis and it was the site of frequent lightning strikes, leading to the installation of the newly invented device - the lightning rod. The inventor was none other than Benjamin Franklin. The current dome is an enlargement of the original which was derided for its less than imposing dimension. Apparently size does matter. The dome is made of cypress harvested on Maryland's Eastern Shore in Somerset county. No nails were used in its constructions. To this day, it is held together with wooden pegs and iron straps. For more about the dome, click here.

Government House has been the official residence of the Governors of Maryland since 1870. This is, however, much more than a residence. It has been, and continues to be, the center of the political and social life of this beautiful capital city. Government House is at the heart of Maryland history and the furnishing, paintings and other items within its walls tell the story of Maryland's rich and glorious past. Among its treasures are portraits by Charles Wilson Peale, one of America's foremost portrait painters, and furnishings by Potthast, eminent Baltimore furniture makers of the 19th century. The house is also decorated with beautiful pieces from around the nation and the world. Read more about it here.

Annapolis is also the home of St. John's College. Founded in 1696 as King William's School, this coeducational four year liberal arts college is best known for its distinctive "great books" curriculum. Student read the original texts of classic literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, political science, economics, history, mathematics, arts and sciences. It has a second campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico with the same curriculum and students may transfer between them during the course of their studies.

The first year is devoted to Greek authors and their pioneering understanding of the liberal arts; the second year contains books from the Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods; the third year has books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most of which were written in modern languages; the fourth year brings the reading into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A complete list is available on their website.

The present site of the college was proposed as early as 1761, and when the college was chartered by the state of Maryland in 1784, it was given the unfinished building now known as McDowell Hall and four acres of land. Since that time, St. John's has added to its campus ( map ), which now covers about 32 acres. The campus is a National Historic Landmark and lies within the Annapolis Historic District.

The United States Navy came into being during the American Revolution. But it was not much of a Navy with only a few small, shallow draft vessels. A wary Congress, untrusting of the Federal Military, was weary and worried about Federal expenditures disbanded it in 1785. However, by 1794 President George Washington persuaded Congress to authorize a new ocean going navy to combat piracy, primarily by African nations along the Barbary Coast.

The first vessels of the new navy were launched in 1797, including the United States, the Constellation and the Constitution. In 1825, President John Adams urged Congress to establish a Naval Academy to properly train navel officers. His suggestion was not acted upon until the scandal of a mutiny. The schooling ship Somers sailed from Brooklyn Naval Yard with young teenage seamen apprentices. It suffered a breakdown in discipline and 3 young midshipmen were tried for mutiny and hanged from the yardarm. the incident shocked the populace and change to the established practice of training sailors directly about ship to learn by doing.

Fort Severn
Fort Severn

On October 19, 1845, Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft established the Naval School at the 10 acre Army post of Fort Severn in Annapolis. He chose the site as a "healthy and secluded" location that would protect the young trainees from "the temptations and distractions that necessarily connect with a large and populous city."

The first class of 50 midshipmen and seven instructors received no funding from Congress. The curriculum included mathematics, navigation, gunnery, steam, chemistry, English, natural philosophy and French.

The Naval School became the US Naval Academy in 1850 with a four year curriculum that required midshipmen to train aboard ships in the summer. The Academy grew from the 10 acre wood building campus of Fort Severn to a 338 acre campus of imposing granite buildings.of today. The copper green tops are a clear landmark in the wide mouth of the Severn River.

In 1933, Congress authorized the granting of bachelors degrees in science. In 1976, the Naval Academy first accepted women as midshipmen when Congress authorized their admission to all military academies.

The main harbor of Annapolis is located on Spa Creek, a tributary of the Severn River. Filled with pleasure boats large and small, the harbor has been a sailing and boat building center throughout the 20th century. Trumpy Yachts created large luxury power boats for the rich and famous, but was converted to production of PT boats for the duration of World War II. Today, the creek is filled with marinas and fiberglass sailboats, waterfront homes with docks out front and various restaurants and marine supply stores. Annapolis is often considered the sailing capital of the world. Every day the mouth of the Severn is filled with bright sails racing a triangular course. Boat traffic here on a pleasant summer weekend is as dense as rush hour traffic with no traffic lanes.

Spring River Kayaks is a major outfitter located just one block off Spa Creek. They have an outdoor carpeted launch ramp and some parking available. Kayak equipment rentals and sales are available. Ask for Joel.

McNasby Oyster Company

Annapolis Maritime Museum, just blocks away from Spring River Kayaks is a newly designated Chesapeake Gateway site. The museum consists of two buildings. The larger building was for many years the McNasby Oyster Packing House. The museum displays many of the tools of the oyster trade and the sea food packing business. A model of the Thomas Point Lighthouse was recently donated by the Upper Bay Museum. A large portion of the building displays paintings of Bay work boats and those who made their living on them. A deck over the water at the back of the packing house looks out into Eastport harbor and provides space for picnics and event hosting. Next to the oyster house is a long dock where the museum frequently berths their restored Bay work boats. The museum has a drake tail work boat named after Peg Wallace, after the cofounder of the museum. When I visited the museum, I was given a personalized tour of the place by Peg herself. Her enthusiasm and energy reflected the hard work that continues to develop the new museum. (This deck was destroyed by a hurricane and the museum was flooded.)

Next to the dock at the back of the museum is a small beach where canoes and kayaks may be hand launched. Parking is on the street and is subject to the usual Annapolis parking difficulties, but a space can usually be had within a block or two. Outside the packing house, there is a display of a restored Chesapeake deadrise and signs showing the time line of Chesapeake Bay watercraft. Another crab smasher is undergoing restoration in the yard. A small building next to this display contains Captain Herbie Sadler's paintings and period vintage tools of the shipwrights who constructed these craft, including augers, broad axes, draw knives, caulking irons and hammers.

The Severn River is a long, high banked river extending 14 miles to Round Bay and beyond. It is lined with many large homes along the river and its many tributaries. The river heads northwest from Annapolis, passing under two tall bridges. It is an excellent day paddling destination, although parking anywhere along its length is a serious problem. At night the lights of the private residences and the waterfront of the harbor are exceptional. For a report on a day trip on the Severn, click here.




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