Travel: Discover history, and free sites, in Annapolis

04/20/2014 12:00 AM

04/17/2014 11:29 AM

This picturesque state capital near the Chesapeake Bay is known for its history, sailing and seafood. Annapolis served as the capital of the United States for nine months in 1783 and 1784.

The city also is known for its colleges – both the U.S. Naval Academy and St. John’s College, the latter founded in 1696 as King William’s School. The city’s historical ambiance is a big draw, as are its restaurants, shops and taverns. Some of the city’s main attractions can be visited for free. The quaint downtown layout over a compact area is better suited for pedestrians than cars.

Maryland State House

Maryland’s state Capitol building is known as the oldest in continuous legislative use in the nation, as well as the first peacetime capitol of the United States. The Continental Congress met inside from November 1783 until August 1784.

The Old Senate Chamber, which is undergoing renovations to be finished late this year, was where Gen. George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Washington’s resignation set a precedent for placing control of the military under civilian authority. Washington’s personal copy of his resignation speech is scheduled to go on display when new exhibits are installed. Congress also ratified the Treaty of Paris in the building to officially end the Revolutionary War. Lawmakers still meet for an annual 90-day session in the building.

The exterior of the wooden dome was completed in 1788. It was built out of timber with no metal nails. The lightning rod on top is a “Franklin” rod, constructed and grounded to Benjamin Franklin’s specifications.

U.S. Naval Academy

Visitors can walk the academy grounds and enter some buildings free of charge. Parts of Bancroft Hall, home to the entire Brigade of Midshipmen and known as the largest college dormitory in the nation, are open, including the main entrance and Memorial Hall. There is a museum, which has two floors of exhibits about the history of the Navy and the role the academy has in producing officers. There is also the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel and the crypt of John Paul Jones, the famed Revolutionary War naval leader. An academy restaurant is open to the public.

African American History

The Banneker-Douglass Museum, named for Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, is dedicated to preserving Maryland’s African American heritage. The museum, which has free admission, serves as the state’s official repository of African American material culture.

Annapolis also is home to the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial by the City Dock. The memorial commemorates the 1767 arrival of the African slave written about in Alex Haley’s book “Roots.” A statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore native who was the first African American justice on the high court, is on a mall next to the Capitol.

Walking tour

Annapolis boasts more original standing colonial buildings than any other city in the nation. The visitors center offers free maps of downtown historic sites. From May to September, visitors can watch sailboat races, a tradition that dates to the 1950s.

Maryland is the only state where the homes of all four of its signers of the Declaration of Independence still stand, and they are in Annapolis. The home of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer, is open for free public tours for individuals and groups of up to six people on weekends from June through October. The waterfront home also has one of the most intact 18th century garden designs in the Chesapeake region.

Maritime Museum

The Annapolis Maritime Museum, housed in the city’s last oyster-packing plant, is a small free museum overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The museum highlights the oyster and its role in shaping the history and maritime culture of Annapolis. The waterside museum has a small beach and a place for people with kayaks and canoes to enter the water.

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