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Living with Colonial history, tourists in Annapolis

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Souvenir-hunting tourists wander the Historic District of Annapolis, but the neighborhood also has a community of several thousand residents, people who live in more than 1,300 private homes and are accustomed to directing visitors to City Dock.

Most houses in the oldest part of a city that has passed its 300th birthday are old, but newer ones are built to blend in. Exterior work within the Annapolis Historic District must meet the standards of the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

The historic district is three-pronged: The National Historic Landmark District and the Annapolis Historic District have almost the same boundaries, focusing on the Colonial era; the National Register District includes later buildings and is larger.

In 1695, the capital of the colony of Maryland transferred to what's now the Historic District. Annapolis later became the state capital, and residents are as likely to see elected officials, including their governor, as they are other neighbors.

Juliet Shore loves the spirit of living with history: "You have a sense of the continuity of all these same things, all the trial and tribulations, people still go through the same ones."

Neighborhood camaraderie is such that streets have been holding block parties for generations, and many a homeowner and shopkeeper fill water bowls out front for passersby on a leash.

Housing stock // Houses date from the Colonial era and go into the first third of the 20th century. Old brick and wood, working shutters on windows, flowers on doors and boot-scrapers by the steps are part of the leafy streetscape. Many historic homes are small. The Garden Club of Old Annapolis Towne capped membership at 25, so meetings could be held in members' houses.

The neighborhood has a mix of single family homes, rowhouses, houses carved into rental apartments, residences over stores, and newer condos. Mixed in are businesses, offices, bed-and-breakfasts, museums and government buildings.

Kids and schools // Back when Annapolis Elementary School turned 100 in 1996, it was the oldest continuously operating public school in Maryland. State test scores average close to or below the county, though higher in fifth-grade reading and fourth-grade math. At Bates Middle and Annapolis High schools, they average below the county. Annapolis High has an International Baccalaureate program. Many children attend private and parochial schools. Youth sports in the area include the Peninsula Athletic League, Annapolis Youth Lacrosse and Annapolis Soccer. There's a playground by Annapolis Elementary.

Crime // City police patrol on bicycle and in cars, and the neighborhood is considered generally safe. "There is a theft problem, like any other urban area," cautions Hal Dalton of the Annapolis police department.

Transportation // The area was laid out in a wheel and spoke design more than 200 years before cars, trucks and Route 50 came along. Many streets are narrow, and complaints about traffic and parking are routine. But it's very walkable.

Annapolis trolleys and buses reach the historic district, and the harbor allows for travel by water taxi and private boat.

Shopping // Not all of it is tchotchkes for tourists. Residents are protective of locally owned stores, patronizing them for everything from hardware and menswear to giftware and eyewear. Some shops are geared to students -- St. John's College lies in the district, the Naval Academy borders it.

Dining in // Residents long for a neighborhood supermarket or, at least, a greengrocer. Mini-marts, the only drugstore and even gift shops carry some basics; restaurants accommodate neighbors; a farmers market is wildly popular. Outside the neighborhood, Graul's is a manageable walk and other supermarkets are within a few minutes drive.

Dining out // The historic district has restaurants of every ilk and price range with this note: "There is very little chaining of the town. You have local restaurants that local people eat at that are owned by local people," said resident Jim Stewart.

Nightlife // The most recognizable name is Rams Head, the brewery/tavern/restaurant/music venue, but other nightspots also feature live music. Summertime offers the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater. For movies, residents drive to the Annapolis Harbour Center and the Annapolis Mall.

Recreation // This is a college town: Frisbees fly on the lawn at St. John's College. It's a sailing town: many historic district residents keep boats. Sandy Point State Park is a short drive.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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