Friday, September 8, 2023

Discover Annapolis: History, Attractions and More in Maryland's Capital

Boats docked on Spa Creek in Eastport Annapolis with the Naval Academy in the background.
Courtesy: Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County

Annapolis, which is the capital city of Maryland, is safe, walkable, historic and picturesque.  Situated on the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Severn River, it forms part of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area and, as such, is convenient for those who want to visit either place, with Annapolis as their home base.

I recently visited the area for a short stay, during which time I was able to tour the the Museum of Historic Annapolis, the  Maryland State House, the William Paca House and Garden, and the world renowned United States Naval Academy

Visiting the Museum of Historic Annapolis

The Museum of Historic Annapolis

Guests can start their history tours with the Museum of Historic Annapolis located at 99 Main Street, where three floors of exhibits await to share the story of the people who shaped it, from the arrival of new immigrants, to the expansion of the Naval Academy and the development of new neighborhoods.

The museum also tells the story of segregation in the area. Guests will learn about John T. Maynard, a free black man who earned a living as a waiter at the City Hotel and became a prominent community leader. Maynard served as a trustee of the Stanton School on Washington Street and also as a church leader at mount Moriah A.M.E. Church, which dates back to the 1870s and now serves as the Banneker-Douglass Museum.  Guests will also learn about the Green Book, which listed places where African American travelers were welcome, like Carr's Beach, an entertainment and music venue that hosted the likes of such renowned entertainers of the day like Little Richard, Sara Vaughan, Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, The Temptations, Billie Holiday and more. 

Carr's Beach hosted a litany of talented entertainers.

Knowledgeable staff at the Museum of Historic Annapolis will also be happy to answer any questions about additional historic sites, all located within a short walk from the museum, to help you make the most of your time in Annapolis.

Touring the Home of a Man Who Signed the Declaration of Independence

At the William Paca House and Garden I met up with a lovely tour guide/volunteer who escorted me around the property and pointed out various areas of interest relating to the gentleman who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

A view of the William Paca House from the garden.

William Paca was a member of the Maryland Senate from 1776-1777 and 1778-1780. He became Chief Justice of Maryland in 1782 and seven years later was elected Governor of the State. He was later appointed by George Washington as Chief Justice of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland--a position he held until his untimely death at age 59. 

His five-part Georgian Mansion was built in the 1760s and later was acquired by the Annapolis Hotel Corporation.  Renamed the Carvel Hall Hotel, it debuted in 1901 with 200 rooms. By the mid-1960s, developers were eyeing up the property for mixed-use development until Historic Annapolis, headed up by Anne St. Clair Wright and other local preservationists, stepped in to save the property and restore it to its original splendor using historical artwork and archeological excavations. Since then it has been recognized as one of the finest 18th-century homes in the country. In 1971, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Correspondence was likely written in this room.

The attractive dining room of the Paca house.

A kitchen area where game, fish and other foods were prepared.

The elegant and peaceful two-acre garden contains "rooms," known as parterres, where guests can walk among the roses, flowers, hollies and boxwoods on their way to the fish-shaped pond and the two-story summer house which is rented out for events and celebrations.

The summerhouse at the rear of the garden is rented out today for celebrations and other events.

Visitors should note that guided tours take place on the hour and half hour and take between 45-50 minutes. The William Paca House and Garden is located at 186 Prince George Street. Admission fee is $5 for a self-guided tour of the garden and $12 for a guided tour of the house. It is a Blue Star Museum, offering free admission on select dates to the nation's active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve. Learn more at the website here

Take a Free Tour of the Maryland State House

Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, with State House in the background.
                                        Courtesy: Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County

Next up was the Maryland State House, the oldest state house in America in continuous legislative  use and where the Maryland General Assembly meets three months out of the year. 

The free, self-guided tour takes visitors from the 18th to the 21st century, beginning in the Archive Room where they can get the lay of the land, so to speak, with brochures and other helpful information. 
The lobby of the State House.

The dome was added between 1785 and 1794, is the largest wooden dome in America and was crafted without nails.

It was in the State House that George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1783. This notable speech is considered by historians to be the fourth most important document in American history, setting the precedent of the military being under civilian authority. Guests can find the speech in a display case in the Senate chambers. In between the chambers, in the so-called "stairwell room," visitors will see a silhouette of a person ascending the stairs to the second floor gallery.  That person is Molly Rideout, the eldest daughter of Maryland governor Samuel Ogle and recorder of Washington's resignation. At the time, females were not permitted on the Senate floor.

Molly Rideout ascends the steps to record proceedings.

The thoughtful layout of the State House ensures that guests will know they've left the 18th century when they cross a black band on the floor. Built between 1902 and 1905, the new part is called the Annex. It's here where the Maryland legislature meets for its 90-day session starting the first Wednesday in January.

Guests will see skylights in both chambers crafted by the talented Louis Comfort Tiffany.

In the Senate chamber, they'll encounter portraits of Maryland's four Declaration of Independence signers: Charles Carroll, William Paca, Thomas Stone and Samuel Chase, along with one of Verda Welcome, the first African American woman to become a Maryland Senator.

Maryland's Senate chamber.

In the House of Delegates chamber, guests will see former speakers of the House arranged in chronological order.

Maryland's House Chamber.
It's also important to note that the Maryland State House was the Capitol of the United States from November 1783-August 1784 and was America's first peace time capitol. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, the first State House in the nation to acquire that status.

This wall tells the stories of the Heroes of the Revolution, including Catherine Hoof Green, the only female pictured. She ran The Maryland Gazette after her husband's death. 

The State House is open every day from 8:30-5:00 p.m., except for Christmas and New Year's Day.

Touring the Naval Academy

A tour of the United States Naval Academy is a must during any visit to Annapolis. It's quite interesting to learn about what a rigorous program these young women and men follow in order to be a part of the over 4,400 students registered here. 

While on the tour, I learned many surprising facts. Did you know that the United States government covers the tuition of all students and that the Academy only accepts 8.1 percent of those who apply? In return, these individuals must prove themselves worthy every step of the way.

The Naval Academy will also accept those who cannot swim. "They'll teach you, but you'll have to prove yourself," said our tour guide, explaining that, in order to pass the naval swimming test, Plebes (what freshmen are called) are expected to jump into water wearing overalls and tread water for two minutes, then be able to swim more than 54 yards in four minutes without touching the sides or bottom of the pool before exiting from the deep end without assistance. See that extremely tall diving board? "Plebes are expected to walk off it with their hands crossed over their chests with their khakis on," explained our tour guide.

The Olympic-sized swimming pool in the Naval Academy training center.

Another interesting fact I learned while on the tour is that Bancroft Hall is the largest dormitory in the world and, upon acceptance, students forfeit all of their personal electronics. 

Bancroft Hall interior.
Bancroft Hall was named after Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, who founded the school in 1845. When Plebes enter the hall, everything for everyday life is provided, from cobblers for shoes, to tailors for clothes, salons for haircuts, stores for everyday necessities and banks for financial transactions.

During the tour, we also learned that H. Ross Perot, who passed in 2019, was a student at the Academy and quietly supported the school on the stipulation that his name not be placed on any of the buildings. Doing good things without recognition--more people should follow his example. 

In the photo below is the beautiful interdenominational chapel built in 1904. It seats approximately 2,500.  A window, which appears above the altar, shows Christ Walking upon The Water and was designed by Tiffany Studios.

The Naval Academy Chapel built in 1904.
The tour also took us to Dahlgren Hall, named for Rear Adm. John A. Dahlgren, inventor of naval guns and Civil War leader. It's the site of special events and also serves as a lounge for the midshipmen. Shown prominently in the photo is a full-sized replica of the Wright brothers 1911 Navy B-1 airplane.

Dahlgren Hall serves as a lounge for midshipmen and their visitors.

Another part of the campus features capacious officers' houses, which span 4,200 square feet and contain seven bedrooms and as many fireplaces. I, for one, would have loved to have taken a peek inside.
Officers' houses span 4,200 square feet and contain seven bedrooms and fireplaces.

These are just a few details from the tour we took that lasted almost two hours. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes and a state-issued ID should you decide to go. Costs at this time are $12 for adults, $11 for seniors and $10 for children.

Get Your Shop On

There's no dearth of boutique shops, art galleries and restaurants in Annapolis. Antique shops, in particular, are plentiful. Below are a few shots of the merchandise that I found interesting, particularly the photo of the tour guides which dates back to the 1950s. "They all came back to identify themselves," said the shopkeeper.

Silk Road Antiques located at 53 Maryland Ave.

Seen at an art gallery.

I thought this painting of a sailboat was beautiful.

Tour guides of 1959.

Painted shells seen in one shop window.


We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn located conveniently within three blocks of the State House and within striking distance of places to eat and drink. Our room was spacious, with a safe for valuables, comfortable beds and a Keurig. 

The Capital Hotel
For a more boutique-like experience, there is the Capital Hotel, a thoughtfully restored building located on State Circle in the Historic District, which is thought to be between 200 and 300 year's old. It is comprised of six quiet private rooms with great views. 

Two of the six rooms located at the Capital Hotel

Visitors who stay can take advantage of the onsite restaurant and bar called the Parley Room. Guests have the opportunity to dine inside, or al fresco on the patio.

The Parley Room.

Well this pretty much sums up our latest experience in Annapolis. For the record, we stayed about a day and a half. There's so much more to do in the city, from food tours, to Segway tours, haunted tours and more, all of which I can recommend, having done all those years before this visit. This time I thought it best to learn more about the history of the area and I have to say we covered quite a bit of ground in a short amount of time. 

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Montgomery County Maryland--A Multi-Faceted Vacation Destination

The beautiful Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda Credit: Strathmore
Those who are always on the lookout for things to do during a three-day weekend may wish to consider visiting Montgomery County, Maryland. Just recently, I spent some time there exploring the area--more specifically North Bethesda near Washington, D.C., along with Rockville, Gaithersburg, Williamsport, Potomac and finally Dickerson, Maryland. This relatively small area offers so much to do during a long weekend that you'll find yourself wondering how you'll fit it all in.

If you enjoy shopping and having access to a variety of restaurants, I suggest staying in the heart of the action in the Pike and Rose neighborhood in North Bethesda. The deli below caught my attention and gave me a chuckle.

Call Your Mother, a Jew-ish Deli

For accommodations, I can recommend the Canopy by Hilton. It's comfortable, well-appointed and is within walking distance of a bevy of boutique shops and high-end retailers. Plus, I love this little nook, which is tailor made for writers.
Canopy by Hilton in N. Bethesda is made for writers.

The Canopy's onsite restaurant "Hello Betty" serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a large selection of seafood, ranging from crab cakes, to scallops, stuffed flounder, grouper and more.

Hello Betty is an onsite restaurant at Canopy by Hilton

For a change of scenery and an after-dinner drink, I recommend walking across the street from the Canopy to Julii for a blackberry blossom cocktail, which was not only beautiful, but also delicious.

Julii's bar is beautiful and they make a great cocktail.

A friendly bartender made me this delicious and gorgeous Blackberry Blossom.

For those with kids in tow, there's a family fun destination just steps from Julii in the same Pike & Rose neighborhood called Pinstripes, which offers bowling, bocce and made-from-scratch Italian American Cuisine. Menu items include pizza, burgers, salads, pasta and more.

Pinstripes offers food and fun for the entire family.

Another area chock full of restaurants, shops and family fun is the Rockville Town Square. There you'll find the Maryland Women's Business Center (MWBC) Shop Local retail business incubator where makers can test out the market for their goods prior to purchasing a brick-and-mortar store. Jewelry, art and women's accessories are just a few of the things you'll find there.
MWBC Shop Local features local makers.

When I visited the town square area, children were enjoying cooling off in the park on a hot day while parents sat nearby to watch.

Kids cool off on a hot July day at Rockville Town Square.

VisArts features a gallery and offers classes to the community.

Restaurants, like Thai Chef, are in abundance at Rockville Town Square.

A mural outside Dawson's Grocery.

In addition to restaurants, shops and a park complete with water features, Rockville Town Square also touts Dawson's, an upmarket grocer and natural foods shop. In addition, an art center called VisArts engages the community by offering classes and art exhibits. The vibrant and colorful area is a must-see stop for anyone visiting the Rockville area.

Down the road a bit in Bethesda is a music center called the Strathmore, which almost always elicits oohs and aahs from first-time visitors and is pictured at the top of this post. (Photos alone don't do it justice.) The performance space, which seats 1776 attendees, is not only known for its beauty, but also for its education programs and state-of-the-art acoustics where nary a bad seat is to be had.

Two upcoming events in December 2023 include the Manheim Steamroller Christmas and the Hip Hop Nutcracker.

An onsite special events space at the Strathmore.

Located a little further afield is the National Historic Park at the C&O Canal, which attracts approximately five million visitors per year.

Markers at the park tell the story of the Great Falls and the C&O Canal Company, which encountered obstacles in connecting the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. Because the Potomac plunges 41 vertical feet at Great Falls, six locks were created to safely drop the boats past the river. 

Back in the 1870s, the area was popular with Washingtonians who were eager get away and enjoy the scenery. The lock keepers house was enlarged twice to accommodate the hotel and tavern that you see here.

Great Falls Tavern
Further on down the road a bit in Potomac is Swains Lockhouse (Lockhouse 21), named for the family which inhabited the structure for a century (until 2006). Recently it has been rehabilitated by the C&O Canal Trust, in partnership with the C&O Canal National Historical Park--a project that took three years (2016-2019). 

The Swain lockhouse, exterior.

The Swain history is key to the canal history in that the family helped build the canal and went on to own 15 boats, while serving as lock tenders until the canal closed to boat traffic in 1924. They later opened a stand to rent boats and offer tours to visitors.

The interior of the Swain lock house.

What's even more interesting about this lockhouse in particular, and the lockhouses in the area in general, is that the C&O Canal Trust rents them out. Prices vary according to the desired degree of rusticity. 

Located even further afield is the historic Comus Inn in Dickerson, Maryland, which dates back to 1862. Open Wednesday through Sunday, the Comus Inn is a wonderful place to take the entire family (including your four-legged friends) to enjoy the great outdoors, the scenic views, live music, board and lawn games and more.

Comus Inn exterior, Credit: Comus Inn

The menu at the Comus Inn is both upscale and casual and is overseen by culinary director Sammy Demarco, who has worked in kitchens around the world.

Comus Inn Interior, Credit: Comus Inn

Dining room entrees include items like Forest Mushroom Pappardelle, grilled Bronzino, blackened salmon and sirloin steak. At the beer hall and garden, guests can belly up to picnic tables and enjoy more casual items like burgers, pizza and nachos.

Additional Accommodations

Beyond the Pike & Rose neighborhood, there are other highly rated hotels with rooms at various price points.

The Best Western Premier Rockville Hotel and Suites offers an outdoor pool, an exercise facility and the best cheesecake that you'll ever eat at its onsite restaurant Bogart's.

The DoubleTree by Hilton in Gaithersburg took advantage of the downtime wrought by COVID 19 to renovate their event spaces, which now total 16,500 square feet and include a 5,000 square foot ballroom. They offer free Wi-Fi, an expanded fitness center and a heated indoor pool. A newly designed onsite restaurant and bar known as Knife & Fork offers upscale fare and a sports-bar like lounge.

The Gaithersburg Marriott Washingtonian Center offers a fitness center, Wi-Fi and is a short walk to Rio Lakefront for shopping, dining and entertainment. Their on-site restaurant, The Bench, offers lakeside seating with American fare like salmon, filet mignon and crabcakes.

These are just a few suggestions for an elongated weekend of shopping, exploring and enjoying live entertainment in the Montgomery County area, which is close enough to D.C. to add even more sightseeing to the itinerary, that is if you can find the time.