William Brown House

History:

by Donna Ware

In the midst of London Town's decline, William Brown built an imposing Georgian structure which still stands overlooking the South River. Built between 1758 and 1764, it is one of two buildings that survive from colonial London Town. Brown, an aspiring gentleman who operated both a ferry and an inn at London Town, was also a joiner and a cabinetmaker. He probably served as his own "undertaker," or building contractor, as he did for the construction of the Upton Scott House in Annapolis. The two houses, both completed in 1764, bear a striking resemblance to each other.

Brown positioned his house at London Town with a dramatic view of the South River. However, instead of facing north, he oriented it toward Scott Street, the road leading to the ferry landing. Measuring 50 by 40 feet and 49 feet high, it is a large Georgian house constructed of header-bond brick (see image at right).  Header bond was a fashionable and expensive brick bonding technique used predominately in Maryland in the mid-eighteenth century, but rarely found elsewhere. The Brown House is the only known example with all-headerbond on all four elevations. The principle elevation of the house is marked by a projecting pavilion, which includes three of the seven bays on the facade. The exterior walls display a restrained, clean surface ornamented with a cove and quarter-round molded water table and a belt course. The wooden cornice survives in its unfinished state with empty slots for the placement of consoles. A pair of large interior chimneys project from the central deck of a shallow-pitch.

The unique floor plan is composed of four elevated corner rooms separated by a central hall and a transverse passage. A central entrance on each elevation leads to the hall and passage. Except for the enigmatic elevated rooms and the location of the stairs, the plan resembles the main block of Blandfield in Essex County, Virginia, built in 1770. Architectural investigations suggest that the interior remained unfinished during the 20 years William Brown owned the house.
Architectural evidence supporting the use of the house as a tavern is represented by an arched opening in the masonry wall between the entry and the principal first floor room. It may have functioned as part of a bar allowing beverages to be passed into the entertaining room in the rear of the house. The arch was filled and plastered over after Brown's ownership.

William Brown's financial situation declined after the construction of the house. In 1758, a few years after he began operating the South River ferry and ordinary, Brown purchased two lots from Stephen West, Jr. for 150 pounds sterling. He then amassed enough credit to build his grand house. Indebted to James Dick, a Scottish merchant at London Town, for 500 pounds sterling, Brown never recovered from this lavish expenditure and was continually in debt after 1769. In 1782 James Dick died and Brown was unable to pay his debt which by then amounted to 731 pounds sterling. After unsuccessfully trying to sell the house, he released it to the executor's of Dick's estate.

In 1828 the Brown House and 10 acres were acquired by Anne Arundel County for use as an Almshouse. It continued operation as the "poor house" until passage of the Welfare Act in 1965. In the 1970s, it became part of the Anne Arundel County parks system.

Online Tour:

by Vicki Lerch

A tour of the William Brown House begins with a review of William Brown’s career as a carpenter/joiner, ferry master, tavern keeper, land speculator and debtor. Visitors are invited to enter the restoration of the house as it may have appeared when he and his family occupied it.

The exterior of the house is an example of Georgian architecture and features header bond brickwork. As we pass through the front door, the interior features show the symmetry and balance typical of Georgian buildings. The unique raised corner rooms and examples of ongoing architectural research and restoration can be noted. Eighteenth century visitors would have been sorted out by the nature of their business and directed to the proper area of the house.

To the right of the entry, a room is set up for entertaining in a fashionable manner. The floor cloth, tea set, botanical prints and Bateman silver all speak of women’s lives, possessions and careers. Across the passage is a rental space. Most travelers needed only a night’s lodging, but others needed a place to do business for a longer time and both could be accommodated in this urban style tavern. The folding press bed, desk and writing implements show these varied uses.

As we continue to the right, the Hall is the common room where food and drink would be served to both travelers and townsmen. The objects in this room and the Hogarth prints illustrate typical tavern activities. The maps show location, travel routes and population densities. The exposed brick arched pass-through shows changes to the house over time.

Continuing down the passage, we come to the parlor, a family living area. Child care, schooling, various chores and dining, but not cooking, would have occurred in this space. Table wares show some of the differing types fashionable during the 18th century. The bare brick chimney breast exposes the unused nailers (used to fasten paneling and moldings to the interior walls) indicating the unfinished nature of the house. Worn areas and repairs to the brick reflect the use of this room as a kitchen in the nineteenth century almshouse.

The bedchamber shows the emergence of private space, although it would also have been used to entertain private guests. It contains the more elegant furnishings and textiles in the house. The bed, close stool and dressing table illustrate sleeping arrangements, hygiene and dress.

At the foot of the basement stairs we are in the working area and living space of the indentured servants and slaves who made up the labor force of both skilled and unskilled labor in the Maryland colony. Many of the white bondservants were convicts sentenced to transportation in lieu of hanging. In this area we can see mortise and tenon jonts, pit sawn beams, stone foundations and brick arches.

Many of the items in the smaller rooms are used for hands–on activities with the many school children who visit the site each year. The Kitchen in the basement contains the varied equipment needed for open hearth cooking, laundry, and domestic chores.

 

Public Hours

Public Hours

April – November

Wednesday-Saturday
10:00-4:30
 
Sundays
12:00-4:30

Admission

Admission
 
FREE–Members
$10 - Adults
$9 - Seniors (62+)
$5 - Youth (7-17)
Free - Children 6 and younger

What's in Bloom

June
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