Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
 News & Features
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   Picture This
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Clubs & Concerts
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad
The Maryland Statehouse. Photograph By J. Eric Smith

Naval Gazing

Maryland’s capital offers tradition, rich history and unusually well-disciplined docents

By J. Eric Smith

You know how when you go to the zoo, you can often find the biggest, most animated crowds standing in front of the orangutan enclosure, snapping and yapping away while the old man of the forest obliviously picks fleas from his pelt, tosses vegetables and stares into space? Well, I can kinda relate to that orangutan, having spent four years on the other side of the bars as a resident of Annapolis, Maryland’s No. 1 tourist attraction: the United States Naval Academy.

I was a busy little primate while I was there, mind you, getting a hell of an education while preparing myself morally, mentally and physically to defend my nation and all of its citizens from threats or dangers, foreign or domestic. But I was also always acutely aware of the eyes focused on each and every one of us there—and not just by the vigilant officers entrusted with our training, but also by the countless visitors who came to Annapolis looking for a show. And let me tell you right up front, if you’ve never seen it, that the Naval Academy provides a grand show indeed to visitors and alumni alike, what with 4,000 or so midshipmen rushing from great photo-op to great photo-op, all for your picture- taking pleasure.

See (for instance) the Brigade of Midshipmen as it gathers for noon meal formation in Tecumseh Court! Thrill to the feeding of the multitudes in King Hall! Marvel at the forced march from the “yard” (as the Academy’s campus is known) to Navy-Marine Corp. Memorial Stadium for home football games! Gaze in awe at the splendor of the formal color parade on Worden Field! (Think that those fabulous sailboats flying spinnakers in the panoramic background are there by accident? Well, here’s a clue: No). And if you can’t figure out the significance of the Macedonian or Mexican Monuments, then just ask any passing midshipman—they’re trained to answer your questions, and call you “ma’am” and “sir” while they do it.

There are times during the year, however, when you might visit the Naval Academy, or Annapolis in general, and the Brigade of Midshipmen won’t all be on the yard for your touring pleasure, but instead will be dispersed around the world, flying planes, driving ships, or just enjoying well-earned leaves. But guess what? Annapolis is still a tremendous tourist destination even without Uncle Sam’s little helper elves; rich in architecture, history, and leisure activities, chockablock with fabulous seafood restaurants and the sorts of salty old port-side bars that real sailors frequent, and have for centuries.

For Maryland’s capital is one of our nation’s oldest cities and harbors alike, located on a sheltered deep-water inlet of the Severn River, itself a tributary of the mighty Chesapeake Bay, a key hub for early European settlement in the Americas. The city was founded in 1649 by Puritan settlers; the present-day configuration of central Annapolis (two circles with radiating spokes) was set down by Gov. Francis Nicholson in 1693. Nicholson also changed the name of the settlement from “Anne Arundel Town” (named after the late wife of Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore) to “Annapolis” (named after Princess Anne) in 1695, delineating shifts in political affiliation as the Glorious Revolution played out in England. In the same year, the Province of Maryland’s capital moved from St. Mary’s to Annapolis. Maryland’s current Statehouse was constructed between 1772 and 1779, served as the United States Capitol from 1783 to 1784, and remains the nation’s oldest state Capitol building still in use today. St. John’s College (America’s third oldest) was founded in 1796, and the United States Naval Academy was founded in 1845 on the site of an old Army fort.

The Academy’s now-238-acre campus dominates downtown Annapolis. While on the yard, be sure to visit the Rotunda and Memorial Hall, both located inside of Bancroft Hall (the world’s largest dormitory, covering some 33 acres all by itself), the chapel (where John Paul Jones’ remains lie buried in a subterranean crypt), and the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center, just inside Gate One. (Yes, there’s a wall with gates all the way around the landward-facing portions of the Naval Academy; when a midshipman refers to “going over the wall,” you’ll understand what he or she means once you’ve visited). Visiting hours at the Academy are generally from 9 AM to sunset, but it may be worth a phone call before you visit (410-293-2108), just to make sure that there are no additional security requirements in force.

The rest of downtown Annapolis lies outside of Gate One (nearest to the City Dock) and Gate Three (across from St. John’s College) of the yard, conveniently close and tightly packed for both the Brigade’s and your own convenience. The focal point of the downtown area is the City Dock, around which one will find great provisioning points at the City Market House (a sort of quasi-open-air emporium) and the Middleton Tavern (established in 1750 as an inn for seafaring men, and now one of the best fresh seafood restaurants on the East Coast). The City Dock also bears witness to one of the darker elements of Annapolis’ history, in the form of a plaque dedicated to Kunta Kinte, marking the site where the young African (immortalized in Alex Haley’s Roots) was sold into slavery; a sculpture of Haley reading to children stands nearby.

Walk uphill from the City Dock on just about any of the roads that radiate from the city’s center, and you will come to one of two circles atop a pair of nearby hills: State Circle and Church Circle. St. Anne’s Episcopal Church provides the namesake for the latter, on the site where Annapolis’ Episcopalian families have worshipped since 1699, with the current structures having been built in 1858-59. Just off the circle, on Franklin Street, is the former Mt. Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1874, and now home to the Banneker-Douglass Museum, a central repository for African-American history in Maryland.

The Maryland Statehouse is in the middle of the State Circle, easily spotted and identified from anywhere downtown by its extraordinary white dome, capped with an ornamental acorn and a lightning rod designed and grounded to Benjamin Franklin’s specifications and satisfaction. Just off State Circle lies the Maryland Inn, which was built in 1776, is still an operating lodging house and is home to the Treaty of Paris restaurant, one of the downtown area’s most popular dining spots. (Call 800-847-8882 for reservations at the Maryland Inn or any of Annapolis’ other historic inns; those seeking a more modern approach to downtown lodging are encouraged to call the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront, overlooking the City Dock, at 888-773-0786).

The Brigade of Midshipmen assembling for lunch.Photograph By J. Eric Smith

Annapolis has dozens of other historic homes, business and sites, all packed within a very pedestrian-friendly area, most of which can be visited by taking one of the Historic Annapolis Foundation’s guided walking tours; call 410-267-7619 for further information. Of course, this pedestrian-friendly city with its narrow, winding streets can be a nightmare from a traffic standpoint, so seasoned visitors know the key outlying parking lots from which a tourist assault on downtown can be launched. I generally park at Navy-Marine Corp. Memorial Stadium, for instance, just across College Creek from the downtown, which is easily accessed by Rowe Boulevard, the main connector from downtown to the outside world; click on the “transportation” link at for up-to-date information on how to get around downtown.

Or, if all else fails, just ask one of the hundred of young people milling around the downtown in those spiffy-looking Navy uniforms. They may not all be exactly happy to help you, but I can guarantee that they’ll do it anyway, yes sir and yes ma’am. Just do me one favor, though: Try not to point at them and talk loudly about them as if they can’t hear you, OK? It makes us . . . err, I mean, uh, them crazy. Thanks.

Getting There

It takes about six hours to drive to Annapolis in good traffic; take the Thruway south to I-287 South, get on the Jersey Turnpike and follow I-95 all the way to Baltimore, then take I-895 across the Harbor Tunnel and look for signs for I-97 south into Annapolis. You can also fly into Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport, or take Amtrak, which has a station stop right at BWI. Those who don’t relish the thought of driving or staying in the congested Annapolis downtown may want to investigate one of the many hotels in and around BWI, most of which offer shuttle service into downtown Annapolis, Washington or Baltimore.

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Capital One Visa Platinum - Instant Decision
Banner 10000136
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 4 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.