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A Historic Treasure Dressed for the Holidays

Dec 04, 2013 11:06AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds

Gallery: A Historic Treasure Dressed for the Holidays [10 Images] Click any image to expand.

By James Houck // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

Deemed the “Jewel of Annapolis” by local historians and architecture buffs, the stalwart example of Italian-inspired (yes, Italian) design, today known as the Hammond-Harwood House, has a robust history intricately woven into the tapestry of Annapolitan culture. Built between 1774 and 1776 during the birth of the American Revolution, the historic residence sitting on the corner of King George Street and Maryland Avenue has been home to many prominent Annapolis families, and is now meticulously decorated for each holiday season by the presiding ownership of the Hammond-Harwood House Association.

Step inside and it’s easy to sense the regal culture that must have permeated within for more than two centuries. Period furniture—documented as the finest collection in Maryland—features pieces from throughout Colonial America, primarily Philadelphia, New York, and the New England states. The craftsmanship of John Shaw (1745–1829)—a renowned Annapolis cabinetmaker—is on display in nearly every room, most notably a slant-front bookcase in the study, a stately dining room sideboard, a tall case clock also in the dining room, a gaming table with a green baize tabletop, and several ornate chairs. Of particular interest, especially to art historians, are the number of Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827) portraits that hang on many of the home’s walls. It’s an impressive collection of one of the 18th century’s most prominent painters, and offers more than a glimpse into wealthy Colonial lifestyle. All of this within a structure best described as Anglo-Palladian.

Originally built for Matthais Hammond—himself a gentlemen planter with an estate in Gambrills and newly elected to the Maryland government in 1773—the Hammond house (Harwood enters history some time later) was designed by architect William Buckland and would prove to be his crowning achievement. Buckland took inspiration from a plate in I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, an Italian treatise on architecture by architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). First published in 1570, it became an architectural “bible” and proved quite fashionable to reference during the Colonial period (Thomas Jefferson’s initial design for Monticello was inspired as such). The resulting five-part brick mansion in Annapolis also is said to feature some of the best woodcarving and plasterwork in America.

The ensuing irony surrounding this masterpiece is twofold. For one, Buckland unfortunately died at the age for 40—before the home’s completion—never realizing the significance of his accomplishment, which likely would have catapulted his career as a premier architect. And two, by the time the home was fully built, Hammond had decided to stay put in Gambrills. Thus began an interesting course of tenants and ownership of the property.

Upon his death in 1786, Hammond’s nephews inherited the property and eventually sold it to Ninian Pinkney in 1810. Pinkney then did what’s now-considered flipping a property, promptly selling it to Judge Jeremiah Townley Chase in 1811. Down the line of Chase’s descendants, the Harwood family married into the property when William Harwood, who, believe it or not, was the great-grandson of William Buckland, married Chase’s granddaughter. Their daughter, Hester Ann Harwood, in turn, kept the property until her death in 1924 and two years later, the house was sold to St. John’s College. By 1940, and still recovering from the Great Depression, the college sold the Hammond-Harwood House to the newly formed namesake Association, which became the first independently incorporated historic house museum in Maryland.

Today, this history is married to holiday aesthetics inherited from generation to generation. Each room boasts antique charm and seasonal décor, representative of the Colonial-era and beyond. Visitors are often struck by the similarities to their own holiday decorations as they tour the Hammond-Harwood House. But they shouldn’t be; tradition is the hallmark of the holidays.

Tour the Hammond-Harwood House

Beginning December 6th, the house is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 12–4 p.m., with the last guided tour beginning at 3 p.m.

House tours last approximately 50 minutes and run at the top of each hour. Tours include an overview of the history of the house and its architect, the families who lived at the site, and the collections contained within the museum.

Price of admission is $7 adults, $4 children, and $6 for seniors, AAA members, or students with valid ID. Please call the museum’s general information line at 410-263-4683, ext. 16, to check museum hours on major holidays, or visit Hammondharwoodhouse.org.
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