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Annapolis

George Washington sat here: The Historic Inns of Annapolis celebrate their 250th anniversary

Visitors to the three Historic Inns of Annapolis may find: the ghost of a heartbroken bride, a secret underground tunnel to the Maryland State House that political figures may have used in wartime to evade capture, and a letter signed by Abraham Lincoln.

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Engineers will want to check out a 18th century exposed brick hypocaust, a method of heating dating back to the Romans that involved starting a fire(!) beneath the floor, while percussionists can stand in the spot where the town drummer struck a series of complex beats to summon politicians to the State House for the start of legislative sessions.

And while George Washington might not have slept at one of these three charming old inns, he definitely sat here. And danced here. And bet money there.

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Portraits of George Washington, left, and Alexander Hamilton, right, hang in the Maryland inn, where both were guests.

“His favorite hotel was the Robert Johnson house,” said Kenneth White, general manager of the three hotels.

“He used to sit in the lobby and meet with legislators before and after sessions. He danced in the ballroom and gambled in the parlors. There’s a story that he actually gambled away a horse, though I don’t know if it’s true.”

The three boutique hotels were built in the 18th century and are owned by the Dallas-based Remington Hotels: The 50-room, 294-year-old Governor Calvert House was constructed in 1728 as a private home and was used as a barracks until 1784, when it housed officers captured during the Revolutionary War. The 40-room Maryland Inn has always been a public house. It opened in 1772 and is celebrating its 250th anniversary. And the 28-room Robert Johnson House was built in 1773 as a private home.

Hotel staff have come to treasure the way the past mingles harmoniously with the present in these inns, providing small, intriguing glimpses backward in time.

During a visit to the King of France Tavern, White pointed to an opening in a wall where a brick apparently had somehow come loose and gone missing. The aperture was filled by a chunk of wood cut to precisely the right shape. The block was fixed into the wall with two nails shaped like small anvils that look nothing like today’s mass-produced hardware.

Stephen Dudley, chief engineer for Historic Inns of Annapolis, looks at a display case of letters and artifacts at the Maryland Inn.

“The quirks of these buildings fascinate me,” said Michelle Vellon, the hotels’ director of sales and marketing. “The stairs are split, the ceilings are high and the floors are crooked.”

Then there’s the tiny room beneath the stairs of the Maryland Inn that staff members have nicknamed “the scary closet” that still retains faded old wallpaper from the 1800s. It depicts chickens, lords and ladies in powdered wigs, a sunbathing mermaid and this hair-raising ditty:

“Pray that you may never meet

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“Women who have tails for feet.

“A golden harp has a bonny sound,

“But will you care when you are drowned?”

Words to the wise, indeed. Below are other curiosities you’ll find at these three hotels:

Historic Inns of Annapolis are celebrating their 250th anniversary this year.  This is Governor Calvert House at 58 State Circle.

GOVERNOR CALVERT HOUSE, 58 State Circle.

The Hypocaust: The Governor Calvert House required extensive renovations before it was fit to be used as a hotel. And in 1982, workers uncovered a warren of chambers and channels about 6 feet underground and lined with bricks. These underground rooms were a “hypocaust” of the type devised by the Romans as a heating system. Workers would build fires in the brick chambers, White said, and the fires would warm the greenhouse directly above. Charles Calvert, a cousin of the fifth Lord Baltimore, used the greenhouse to grow potted orange trees — a luxury in colonial America. The hypocaust was preserved during the renovation and intentionally has been left partly exposed. It is covered with transparent plexiglass so visitors can peer down and try to figure out how this early precursor to geothermal heating actually worked.

A pair of spectacles that were found on the property are part of a display at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis.

Abraham Lincoln’s letter: As workers excavated the hotel’s foundation in the 1980s, they uncovered a treasure trove of nearly 250,000 objects, many from its earliest days as a home. A sampling is displayed in several curio cabinets on the hotel’s first floor.

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Among them: a kind of expense report filled out by a spy active during the War of 1812, and a Jan. 8, 1865 note in Lincoln’s angular, right-slanting handwriting ordering the release on parole of a former Confederate soldier who had taken an oath of allegiance to the North.

The curio cabinets also contain artifacts from everyday life: spectacles and dishes, pipes and the soles of shoes.

“I’m always amazed at how small the shoes and eyeglasses of people in the 19th century were compared to those worn by people living today,” Vellon said.

The Maryland Inn is located at 16 Church Circle in Annapolis.  It is part of Historic Inns of Annapolis, which are celebrating their 250th anniversary.  They are the Maryland Inn, Governor Calvert House and the Robert Johnson House. August 18, 2022

MARYLAND INN, 16 Church Circle

The Drummer’s Lot: Maryland put its own spin on the popular tradition of the town crier — the town drummer. In 1751, musician William Butterfield was hired to “beat the drum and keep the gate” according to historic records, in what then was known as “lot 49″ adjacent to the Maryland Inn.

Today, the Drummer’s Lot Pub marks the spot.

Playing a series of drum beats that each meant something different, Butterfield used his instrument to announce the time of day, summon the city population to a reading of that day’s news, and to alert politicians that the legislative session was about to start.

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Anyone not present after the third drum roll was fined 100 pounds of tobacco, White said.

The "Ms. Peg Parlor Room" at the Governor Calvert House is dedicated to Ms. Peg Bednarsky, who worked there for 50 years.

The Secret Tunnel: At one end of the King of France Tavern in what once was the wine cellar, a tunnel has been carved out of the ground at about the height of an adult’s waist. According to long-standing legend, the tunnel leads to the Maryland State House, providing a convenient way for the leaders of a city under enemy attack to quickly and furtively get out of Dodge.

Because the passage would present a safety risk today to anyone foolish enough to venture inside, no one knows where it actually leads. While it is unclear how long the tunnel has been there, it clearly hasn’t been used in some time.

White points out that the tunnel appears to head off in the direction of nearby St. Anne’s Episcopal Church instead of toward the State House. Perhaps, he theorized, there was actually a warren of tunnels connecting different buildings.

“If you think about it, we were at war back then so it could have been used as an escape route,” he said. “What I like about these old hotels is that there are so many things you don’t know.”

The Haunted Hotel Room: Hotel guests wishing to test their nerves specifically book Room 405, hoping for an otherworldly encounter with the ghost of the young woman known only as “the bride.” According to the story, the woman had been engaged for 12 years to U.S. Navy Capt. Charles Campbell, who had spent their entire engagement at sea.

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Finally, in 1817, she received a letter from Campbell saying he was being discharged and asked her to meet him at the hotel where he frequently stayed so they could be married as soon as he set foot on land.

The bride spent long hours striding back and forth across the floor, Vellon said, before she saw her future husband walking down the street toward her.

But as the bride watched, a horse and carriage came galloping down the hill. The driver was unable to stop the horse in time, and he struck Campbell and trampled his broken body into the ground.

The horrified bride rushed downstairs and held the captain in her arms as he died. A few hours later, she threw herself from the fourth-floor window and died below on the cobblestone street.

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The hotel staff has reported that guests in Room 405 occasionally report hearing footsteps pacing across the floor, or have the sensation that someone in the apparently empty room has just sat on the bed.

“Maybe eight to 10 people in the past 19 years have seen a white apparition in a wedding gown,” Vellon said. “They always say the same thing: the bride is nice, not scary, a friendly presence.”

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The Robert Johnson House, located across the street from the State House, is one of 3 Historic Inns of Annapolis that are  celebrating their 250th anniversary.  The others are the Maryland Inn and the Governor Calvert House. August 18, 2022

ROBERT JOHNSON HOUSE, 23 State Circle

The Parlor: It’s true that there might not be as many historic objects in this gracious old brick inn overlooking both the Governor’s Mansion and Maryland State House as there are in the other two buildings.

But as Washington’s preferred hotel, it is arguably the most significant historically.

Just across the street, Washington formally resigned his military commission heading up the armies of the Continental Congress of the U.S. on Dec. 23, 1783. The following month, the Treaty of Paris was ratified in the State House on Jan. 14, 1784, formally ending the Revolutionary War.

You can cover every inch of the small lobby where Washington held court in under two minutes and come away confident that your feet have trod the exact ground on which Washington propped his boots while he was seated in a comfy chair, contemplating the new nation.

How cool is that?


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