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A Building on the Move

Oct 27, 2014 09:00AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds

A historic building’s journey from one side of our State Capital to another

By Ann Powell
Photography by Stephen Buchanan

Everyone knows that the regal historic structures in our state capital’s Historic District have always been where we see them—right? Look again. It may surprise you to learn that some of our grandest historic buildings have moved from place to place.

The huge brick structure now located at 164 Conduit Street has moved twice in its long history. Built around 1790, the building was moved in 1900 and again in 1972, before taking its present place on Conduit Street. The designated historic landmark now serves as professional office space, humming with modern-day business activity.

 The impressive building known as the John Callahan House is named for its first owner, a prominent wealthy Annapolitan who lived from 1754 to 1803 and served as the Register of the Western Shore Land Office. Callahan married Sarah Buckland, daughter of prominent architect William Buckland, and soon purchased a home site near the State House where he constructed their Annapolis residence. The Callahan House was originally situated at the corner of Tabernacle and Lawyer Streets (now College Avenue and Bladen Street).

In 1798, John Callahan was assessed $1,300 for the brick house, five outbuildings, and the half acre lot. When Callahan died in 1803, the property passed to his wife and children, and was sold twenty years later to Somerville Pinkney.

By the end of the century, Somerville Pinkney’s two maiden daughters lived in the house, but pressure from the expanding State government threatened their home’s demolition. It seemed that their residence was in the way of the construction of a new Court of Appeals building located generally where the Legislative Services Building now stands on Lawyer’s Mall.

Having grown up in the house, the sisters certainly couldn’t consider moving elsewhere, and so demolition was avoided by moving their home across the street to the corner of St. John’s Street and College Avenue. The ladies didn’t worry about moving their things out, and one 1901 local newspaper account noted that “the entire house furnishings were moved with it, such as furniture, chinaware, glassware, earthenware, &c., &c. Much of the glassware was not packed, but left lying on the beds in the upper rooms.”

A Baltimore contractor, T.S. Spicknall & Company, handled the 1900 move. The local newspaper reported that the moving contractor seemed nonplussed by the job, even though many Annapolitans of the day were skeptical about the likely success of moving a one-hundred year old brick building.

After a few months of work by six men, the building was turned around and positioned on its new foundation at 5 St. John’s Street. Everything went just fine and, as reported, “The Pinkney House was moved intact, without the loss of a single brick, or a crack in the wall, save those that were there when the moving began.” The writer seemed not at all surprised that the structure blocked College Avenue for a full fifteen days due to a weather delay.

St. John’s College purchased the building in 1928 and used it as the campus infirmary. During this period, a one-story shed-style porch was added, and a two-story wing was attached to the rear of the building. Evidence of the detachment from this wing for the next move is still visible on the building’s brick exterior.

 The building stayed in one place for another seven decades before the State needed its site once again. This time the building was moved in 1972 to make way for the Lowe House Office Building. The new destination at 164 Conduit Street was owned at the time by the City of Annapolis and was in use as a surface parking lot. That parking lot existed before the construction of the City’s Hillman garage and was located directly behind Chick & Ruth’s deli and the other commercial buildings near the corner of Conduit and Main.

Ted Levitt remembers well the little booth in which the City’s parking attendants sat to keep an eye on the parking lot. Ted’s parents, Chick and Ruth Levitt, opened their iconic deli on Main Street in 1967, the year Ted turned eleven. A few years later, Ted watched the Callahan House roll down Main Street and turn the corner at Conduit and Main, as he says, “an inch at a time.” He remembers it clearly, “If I could draw, I could almost draw a picture of it turning the corner. Each time they moved the building forward, they had to level it to keep moving it around the corner and uphill on Conduit.”

He recalls that, “My dad had me out there in the dark, giving out coffee to the policemen and workers. We stood on the corner with a coffee pot, and the workers were really grateful, because they were working late into the night.” Handing out coffee to police officers and firefighters became a tradition for Ted and his family, and he recalls being on hand to offer refreshments during the many fires in the older buildings around Main Street over the years. Sometimes, he remembers, “It would be hot as the devil, and we would set up a table with trays of lemonade and iced tea for the firefighters. They come into the restaurant all the time to thank us for that.”

Stuart Walker, Annapolis’s famed Olympic yachtsman, pediatrician, professor, and author, was on hand in 1972 to witness the building moving down Main Street. “In those days, Main Street was cobbled,” he recalls, “and I was relatively apprehensive that the building was in danger of falling off the latticework of beams. The whole thing seemed to rock and sway from side to side. I had some trepidation about the process—it was somewhat alarming to see.”

Stuart was a proponent of Historic Annapolis in its early days, and in 1957 helped to save the “Sign of the Whale” building that is now the Historic Annapolis Museum Store. He approves of the repositioning of the Callahan House and says, “Isn’t it nice that it is in a relatively permanent place where people can appreciate the building?” He recalls that in the early days of historic preservation in Annapolis, “there was a dichotomy in how the Historic Annapolis efforts were received—there were those who thought the proposed restrictions were ridiculous, and there were those who were right in knowing that the regulations would greatly benefit the City.”

In 1972, Main Street was still lined with utility poles and wires, all have which had to be removed temporarily to transport the Callahan House down the street. Stuart recalls that those watching the move from the sidewalks that day remarked how nice Main Street looked without the utility poles—and how nice it would be if they were not reinstalled. That wish came true in later years when the poles were permanently removed, thanks in large part to the efforts of Historic Annapolis.

One of the present-day owners of the Callahan House is Eliot Powell, a life-long Annapolis resident who remembers being an 18-year-old summer worker on Edward Hall’s survey crew when Main Street was prepared for the 1972 building relocation. He recalls, “It was a big deal in town. We had to measure the location and heights of the parking meters so that the building could be jacked up high enough to clear them.

 I was just a lowly hand on the crew, but I knew this was not a normal assignment. We got the job done, but no doubt at some point we ducked into Pete’s Pool Hall—I would have a Coke while the older survey crew played pool. When we spotted the boss heading up Main Street, we would hide behind the window curtains, and sometimes I would have to be the lookout so that the pool game could continue.”

Bob Carruthers remembers the 1972 move in a slightly more technical way. Now a part-time Assistant Harbormaster and a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, Bob was then working in Annapolis. “I was at the foot of Main Street, looking up toward Church Circle, and this building was filling the street—not something one sees every day. I remember being amazed that they could move an old masonry building without the bricks crumbling. The building was apparently being moved with standard house moving techniques, using wheeled dollies linked together with I-beams fastened in a stiff and level grid.”

Bob explains, “Usually they carefully lift a building off its foundation using jacks raised slowly to keep the building level. Then they knock out pieces of the foundation and slide in long I-beams, fasten the I-beams together in a strong flat grid, lower the jacks to lower the building onto the grid, and then slide the dollies underneath. They then fasten it all together and rig tow bars and chains to the front to pull the whole thing away with a big truck tractor. Of course, they also have to measure and prepare ahead of time the new foundation at the new site, with temporary slots for the I-beams to go into, and a ramp for the dollies to carry the building into place, until it is lowered onto the new foundation.”

Since this ambitious move in 1972, the Callahan House has stayed put. It now sits at 164 Conduit Street just behind Chick & Ruth’s deli. Glenn Campbell, Senior Historian with Historic Annapolis, confirms that the building’s present site was once occupied by a large colonial hotel known as Mann’s Tavern.

The hotel’s original section was a house situated where the Callahan House now stands. That house was built in the 1750s and actually fronted on Main Street with a lawn rolling down to Main Street where several storefronts now exist. This house was known as the Dulany House until George Mann bought it in 1783. George Washington stayed at Mann’s Tavern during his 1783 visit to Annapolis to resign his military commission.

Mann built the brick building to the south at 162 Conduit Street in 1788 to expand his hotel, and that building is now the Annapolis Lodge of the Ancient, Free, and Accepted Masons. In the old days, the large hotel facility stretched from Main Street to Duke of Gloucester Street and included the adjoining row homes now referred to as “Rainbow Row.” The hotel underwent various metamorphoses over the years as the City Hotel and other named lodgings, as well as undergoing a major renovation in 1903 to convert the original structure to a glamorous theater. That hotel’s original section was ultimately destroyed by fire in 1917, leaving behind today’s Masonic Lodge and Rainbow Row.

 The resulting empty site at 164 Conduit Street eventually became a City parking lot, until the day came in 1972 when the Callahan House needed a new home. The building was moved to the City-owned property, possibly in part to camouflage the new Hillman Garage, Glenn Campbell suggests. The historic structure was leased to Historic Annapolis, Inc. at the time.

The Callahan House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a contributing property in the Colonial Annapolis Historic District. The Maryland Historical Trust holds a historic preservation easement on the property and lists it in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties.

Eventually the building was sold to a private owner, and served as offices for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The building changed hands a few more times, and since 2001 has been owned and occupied by two real estate entrepreneurs, a fitting use for a building constructed by the Register of the eighteenth century Western Shore Land Office.

One of the building’s current owners is Eliot Powell, our young survey crew member. Nowadays, forty years after he got his start as a surveyor, Eliot operates his real estate development firm in the historic structure. Eliot’s business office is essentially unchanged since its 1790 construction, with its carefully restored original staircase, fireplaces, high ceilings, crown moldings, and gigantic wooden doors. Today’s computers, lighting, and fire safety equipment are as out of place in this space as are the myriad rolled development plans and charts scattered around. The old wooden windows are still as drafty as ever, and the wide-plank floors have never stopped creaking, Eliot says.

“I grew up in this town, and the privilege of being able to work here in this historic building in the Historic District is pretty special. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about who lived in this room in the old days. What was life like then, and who walked these halls? Maybe George Washington slept in this very space.” Eliot adds, “As a downtown business owner, I feel a bond with the other local shop owners making their livings in these creaky old buildings. In fact, both Ted Levitt over at Chick & Ruth’s and I have been able to plant street trees dedicated to our Moms near our respective buildings.”

The other owner of the Callahan House is Peter Zadoretzky, whose contemporary computers and office equipment also contrast with the 1790 fireplaces and elegant architectural details. Peter finds that running his real estate investment business in a historic building, “presents some physical challenges, since the building was not designed with modern efficiencies in mind. This was originally someone’s home, so we have to make do with the original design, which we cannot alter. The room layouts are interesting and charming but with lots of unused space and high ceilings. And the stairs in historic buildings will keep you fit. However, these old buildings are truly beautiful, and each is a one of a kind ‘jewel box,’ with its own unique story.”

So next time you’re touring around downtown Annapolis, stop and wonder for a minute. What unique stories could the antique buildings that line our streets tell us? Have these old houses always been here in this place? Maybe not—some of our most historic buildings have taken their own trips around town.

The author is an Annapolis attorney and amateur historian. She enjoys the Historic District’s lively downtown commercial area and is grateful to those who have worked so hard to preserve the City’s historic character and economic viability. Contact her at powell.ann.r@gmail.com.
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