The capital of the State of Maryland is an example of an attempt to create a European style urban environment in a North American setting by use of a modified baroque plan. Departing from the grid pattern characteristic of many American towns, the planners adopted a modified baroque plan, first applied by French baroque designers in garden layout, as at Versailles. This influence soon spread to England and was adapted by Christopher Wren and John Evelyn for the rebuilding of London after the 1666 fire. In the accepted planning practice of this style, the highest and most commanding locations were reserved for the State House and church.
Annapolis developed in harmony with the original plan of 1695 to emerge in the mid-eighteenth century as the focal point of Maryland government, politics, commerce and as a center of wealth and culture.
The basic features of that early city have survived to the present and provide the boundaries for the historic district. Some streets within Old Town have been widened and a few street names have been altered, but the original plan is little changed. In addition to the many outstanding individual examples of high Georgian design, scores of two and three-story buildings line streets such as Cornhill, Market, and Conduit. None are distinguished in design or detail, but all are harmonious in scale and materials.
the planners separated residential and official areas from artisan commercial, and port activities
Location in 1695, under the direction of Royal Governor Sir Francis Nicholson, the capital of the colony of Maryland was transferred from its original location, St. Mary’s, to a more central and accessible spot on a peninsula between the present Spa and College Creeks at the mouth of the Severn River. The site of the new capital, then denominated Anne Arundel Town, had been sparsely settled since the mid-seventeenth century. Befitting the seat of royal power in absentia the colonial government determined to plan and survey a new town of about 100 acres, which was soon enlarged to over 140 acres. The town, renamed Annapolis to honor Princess – later Queen – Anne, was incorporated in 1696.
The District is home to many notable 18th century structures. Among them are the William Reynolds Tavern at Church Circle, McDowell Hall and the Charles Carroll-Barrister Birthplace on the Saint John’s College Campus, the John Rideout House on Duke of Gloucester Street, the Peggy Stewart House on Hanover Street. The area between Franklin, Northwest, Calvert, Larkin and Shaw Streets contains twenty-five 18th century buildings. Commercial fronts hide the antiquity of 16 early Annapolis buildings along West Street between Church Circle and the intersection of West, Calvert, and Cathedral Streets. To the west of this is Acton, a Palladian mansion completed in 1762 for Philip Hammond, slightly outside the original town limits. This house is noteworthy for its unusual design, the facade facing Acton Place being composed of two pavilion motifs flanking a slightly recessed single center bay, the reverse of the usual arrangement.
The State House on State Circle is a National Historic Landmark. Begun in 1772 and completed in 1784, it was the meeting place of the Continental Congress, 1783-84. It was here that George Washington resigned his commission as commander of the American armies, December 23, 1783, and Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the Revolutionary War on January 14, 1784. This Georgian public building is capped by a 150-foot wooden dome which was completed in 1793 and is the prototype of many subsequent state house domes.