Under Your Nose: History by Land and by Sea

Annapolis Offers Government And Naval Lore Close to D.C.

Posted May 20, 2009 at 4:04pm

Though Annapolis is known as the sailing capital of the world, there is much to see and experience on land as well.

[IMGCAP(1)]Beyond the beautiful bay, a trip to Maryland’s capital cannot be complete without checking out two onshore sites: the Statehouse and the U.S. Naval Academy.

You may question why we’re sending you 30 miles outside Washington, D.C., to visit another Capitol after you likely frequent one on a daily

basis. But the answer is simple: the history.

Statehouse

It’s the only state Capitol that ever served as the U.S. Capitol and is the oldest that remains in continuous legislative use.

The Continental Congress met in the Old Senate Chamber for nine months beginning in November 1783, and during that time the Treaty of Paris was ratified, marking the end of the Revolutionary War.

George Washington also came before that Congress and “resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army on December 23rd, 1783,— according to a brass plaque on the floor of the chamber, just left of center, where the great general stood.

That plaque is likely to be the only item that won’t be removed as the historic room undergoes renovation to strip it down to its original brick and plaster. The chamber will remain open to the public during the process, which is being documented with photos and stories posted around the room.

Also on display is the first president’s final handwritten draft of his resignation speech, which was just acquired in 2007, and offers the perfect opportunity for some re-enacting of your own as you stand where Washington stood and recite the lines.

The many paintings, photos and essays that are on display throughout the building show the great role Maryland played in the formation of the United States.

The Maryland General Assembly uses chambers that were added onto the building at the turn of the 20th century and are reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol — though legislators only use them for three months of the year.

Located in the middle of State Circle, the building is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Naval Heroes

For a nice break and to get a better grasp of the town, try taking one of the many boat tours available. On a recent trip, we cruised the bay for about 45 minutes on a tour that cost $12 apiece.

On the ride, we learned about the crypt of John Paul Jones, America’s first naval hero, which is situated beneath the Naval Academy Chapel (which is also currently undergoing renovations but is open to the public).

We also learned that when the academy’s campus was created, it was 10 acres. Today it sits on a majestic 340 acres, most of which, including the soccer and practice fields that line the waterfront, was created by dredging and filling in the Severn River, the body of water the bay is on. (Interesting fact: That’s the same technique the Navy used to expand the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington.)

On dry land, a natural next stop is the academy. The visitors’ entrance is conveniently located just down the harbor from the public docks.

The campus is beautiful, filled with Colonial-style buildings and lush green landscaping, not to mention the largest dormitory in the world. Bancroft Hall is the only undergraduate housing on campus, holding 4,000 midshipmen. It also holds Memorial Hall, a midshipman-kept memorial to graduates who have died during military operations, which is open to the public.

Another site to see, located just outside Bancroft Hall, is the Japanese Bell, a replica of the original bell Commodore Matthew Perry brought back from his mission to Japan in 1851. The bell is important to the midshipmen, as it is rung ceremoniously to commemorate the academy’s biggest annual event: the Army-Navy football game.

There are tours of the academy available for $9, but unless you are looking for a detailed history lesson, you’re better off just wandering around at your own pace.

Normal visiting hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, extended if there is a special event such as a football game or concert. There is no public parking, and to get through gate security you need a photo ID.