Government House has rich, colorful past

The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley and his wife, Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, are going to sell their cozy brick Arcadia home, where they have lived for the last dozen years, and make the full transition with their children to life in Annapolis. And in Annapolis is one of the great perks that go with being governor.

They've been given the keys to Government House, which has been the official residence of Maryland governors since 1870, when the Victorian house, which took two years to build, was completed on State Circle.

In 1935, the mansion was gussied up into the current brick Georgian mansion. The transformation was completed during the administration of Gov. Harry Whinna Nice.

The O'Malleys will have 38 rooms into which they can unload their chattels, and a dozen bathrooms for daily ablutions.

There are six elegant brick chimneys lining the roof; none of them has a working fireplace, though one of them does have a working propane gas insert.

A staff of eight working on several shifts attends to their needs, while Maryland State Police bodyguards oversee security.

The state constitution requires that the governor must reside in "the seat of government" -- a provision that was obviously written before the age of railroads, streetcars or automobiles, when getting His Excellency, the Governor of Maryland, to Annapolis to direct the state's business could be accomplished only by walking, horse and carriage, or boat.

But since a 1958 ruling, governors may live where they want and they have -- some by choice, others by circumstance.

Before Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and wife, Kendel, lived there full time, the last married gubernatorial couple to enjoy Government House for two full terms was Gov. Harry R. Hughes and wife, Patricia.

Maryland first got into the business of providing a roof over the governor's head in 1733, when the Colonial legislature provided 3,000 English pounds to Gov. Samuel Ogle and instructed him to find some land nearby and build a house.

For whatever reason, the money given Ogle largely vanished, and by the end of his term in 1742, there was no land or residence to show for the legislature's largess.

Two years later, Gov. Thomas Bladen was provided funds, and he purchased four acres of land that is now part of St. John's College. Construction of the house stopped while Bladen tried to obtain more money from the legislature.

The basement and land -- dubbed "Bladen's Folly" -- were transferred to St. John's in 1784, and McDowell Hall was eventually erected on the footprint of the previous building.

Gov. Horatio Sharpe leased a spacious home overlooking the Severn River on what is now the grounds of the Naval Academy. It was also occupied and purchased in 1769 by his successor, Gov. Robert Eden, Maryland's last Colonial governor.

Confiscated by the state, the building, which was known as the Jennings House, became the governor's residence for the next 90 years until it was sold to the Naval Academy.

In 1866, Gov. Thomas Swann used $100,000 in appropriated funds to buy the present site, described as a "quintangular lot," in The Ancient City: A History of Annapolis in Maryland, published in 1887.

A rarity then and now in Maryland, the entire project was completed under budget -- with final costs coming in at $69,296.28. Gov. Oden Bowie was its first resident.

Government House has been the stage for political and marital drama alike.

In 1973, when Gov. Marvin Mandel confessed his love for Jeanne Dorsey and said he was leaving his wife, Barbara "Bootsie" Mandel, she refused to leave Government House for six months, He was forced to take up residence in the Annapolis Hilton.

Perhaps the biggest flapdoodle regarding the mansion came to a head during the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, when "first friend" Hilda Mae Snoops decided to undo the work of former first lady Patricia Hughes.

Hughes helped raise the $1.5 million in private funds that were spent to fill the house's public rooms with furniture and artwork under the guidance of the Maryland Historical Society.

It wasn't long before word leaked out that Snoops was busy having wall coverings and upholstery "Scotchgarded," while interior decorators described her efforts as "nauseating."

On display for all to see were "gleaming silver vessels filled with dill pickles, potato chips and eclairs. A stained-glass skylight with 'Governor William Donald Schaefer' in the lower left corner," wrote an Evening Sun reporter after attending a press tour showing off Snoops' handiwork. "A mechanical clock that played 'Edelweiss,' 'Maryland, My Maryland' and a song from the Broadway musical Cats.

"There amid the music parlor's Empire antiques was a scratched, plastic electric clock, in which little metal balls rolled down the ramp to mark the hours and minutes. 'The governor bought it a flea market,' Snoops said."

After spending $800,000 on the 51-room improvement project, Snoops spent another $97,000 on landscaping, which included removing Bermuda grass from the mansion's grounds.

Snoops was back in the news in 2002, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening conserved water during a summer drought by shutting off the garden fountain she had commissioned in 1990.

Schaefer explained that it wasn't about conservation at all but rather spite.

"I will not have any disparaging remarks about him except I hate him," Schaefer told The Sun in 2003.

However, it took a Republican governor to get the waters in the fountain splashing once again when Ehrlich ordered it turned back on in 2003.

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