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A spiffed-up Carroll House reopens its doors

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Annapolis -- The historic house on Duke of Gloucester Street )) was built by three Charles Carrolls, added to by an order of priests and once was a home for the homeless.

It has been painted, pointed up, plastered, probed, preserved and programmed to finally celebrate the moment that arrives at noon today.

On the west wing porch by the black chain-link fence under the shadow of the steeple of St. Mary's, an official ceremony will open the doors of the Charles Carroll House of Annapolis to the public. The occasion comes after a project that involved nine years, $1 million, contributions from many volunteers and the work of historians, architects, archaeologists and researchers. And it's not even finished yet.

In fact, this is just the first step in the restoration of the red brick house on Spa Creek, which traces its origin back to 1688 when the first Charles Carroll, the one they call the Settler, arrived in Anne Arundel Towne, now Annapolis, from Ireland.

"This is a major project in Annapolis," says James T. Wollon Jr. of Havre de Grace, restoration architect for the house. "It's maybe the last big one or one of the last."

With phase one done, enough has been restored for the grand event of today, one "celebrating four centuries of history." Various members of officialdom, including state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. as master of ceremonies, and preservationists will be there. Among the guests are to be two direct descendants of the Carroll family, both from Long Island, N.Y.

Maryland history never has lacked for Carrolls, particularly those with the first name of Charles. The most famous Charles Carroll in the history of this house is the third one, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.

After the Settler got things going, his son, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, stepped forward and, in 1721, started what now is the central portion of the house, attaching it by a "hyphen" passageway to the Settler's house (one floor of which remains). Carroll of Carrollton, born in the house in 1737, made the final major Carroll changes in the 1770s and 1790s, raising the roof, adding an upper floor, joining three generations of house into a whole.

In 1852, 20 years after he died, his granddaughters sold the four-story house to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, a self-sustaining Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers, who turned the home into a school for priests. The Redemptorists added the western wing, distinguishable by lighter brickwork, and the porch. They continue to own the property, but Charles Carroll House of Annapolis Inc. holds a zTC 99-year lease.

"The house had various uses in the most recent years before we got it, including a shelter for the homeless," says Sandria Ross, administrator-director of Carroll House.

Ms. Ross, who commutes to Annapolis from Centreville, has been overseeing the final frenetic days of preparation. On this day, she is taking two visitors on a tour when the smoke alarm, its sensitivity aroused by the work dust, suddenly goes off, raking the air with a piercing wail. A floor below in the 21-by-48-foot South Room, Elbert Demby and David Hawkins, of Mr. Demby's painting company, still are brushing blue-gray paint on the doors and window trim and black on the baseboards. Other workmen and volunteers go in and out of all parts of the first two floors open today.

The eager volunteers, such as Claudia Evans and Janet MacDonald and Carmella Ruland and any number of others, seem to emerge from almost everywhere, ambushing Ms. Ross with questions and seeking job assignments, bracing her spirits with a wisecrack or a hug.

"The volunteers have been the heart and the real story of this project," Ms. Ross says. "We couldn't have done it without them."

She credits volunteer Robert L. Worden, head of Oriental studies at the Library of Congress and president of the Carroll House board, as being the "motivating force for the project."

With all the hubbub inside, the 3-acre gardens near Spa (once Carroll's) Creek exude peacefulness. Boxwood grows along the green terraces that start near the brick wall at Duke of Gloucester Street. A row of red-tip photinia shrubs line a section of terrace near the house. Tombstones of a small Redemptorist cemetery fill the corner closest to the bridge to Eastport.

Ms. Ross says officials hope soon to embark on a new fund-raising campaign for more work on the house and restoring the gardens. Money from the state, Anne Arundel County and Annapolis and from private sources went to the first phase.

"The house is far from finished," Mr. Wollon says. "The plan all along was to do the work in many phases. There's no time limit."

Wilbur Jones, project manager for Roberts Construction Co. of Frederica, Del., put a "very satisfying" year into the house, and his workers are done with this phase "except for some odds and ends." Mr. Jones says it was his firm's task to redo the house to match the research, such as that done by paint historian Frank Welsh of Philadelphia.

The bricks were pointed up and windows secured in the early phase of the restoration. The principal work in the last year has been on the ground floor and first floor. New brick flooring went in the ground-floor kitchen, but the wooden floors on the next level mostly are original.

"We put in some footers, new plaster, made some new doors," Mr. Jones says. "A lot of the work was time-consuming, particularly the plastering. You have to think about the effect. How good do you want it to look? In the 1700s, you couldn't do it the same way as now."

Mr. Wollon says "some compromises" had to be made in the restoration to make it "accessible and safe." Elevators were installed in the Redemptorist wing, restrooms in the Settler wing.

"While you're making a historic restoration to be as authentic as possible, the house also has to be adapted to public use and visitation," the architect says.

Seven acres remain on this site from Carroll holdings at the time of the death of the first Charles Carroll, a settler who knew how to settle. He eventually amassed 47,777 acres.

After this weekend's free grand opening, the house he started will be available for business meetings, seminars, wedding receptions and other such gatherings. It will be open to the public Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for an admission charge.

"The most important aspect we're trying to show in the restoration is about the choices people make through time," Ms. Ross says. "When you look at the generations of families who built and added to the house, every generation made a choice of how they wanted to live."

CARROLL HOUSE

What: Grand opening of restored Charles Carroll House of Annapolis.

Where: 107 Duke of Gloucester St., behind St. Mary's Church.

When: Noon today, opening ceremonies, proclamations and ribbon-cutting. Living history tours of house and gardens 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission: Free this wekend.

Call: (410) 269-1727.

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