Built between 1764 and 1769 for provincial Maryland Governor Horatio Sharpe, Whitehall is an outstanding example of Palladian architecture and is among the finest colonial-era residences in America. Its Georgian five-part-plan was designed by Joseph Horatio Anderson, the same architect responsible for the plans of the Maryland State House (1772–1779; MD-01-003-0093). Anderson was likely inspired by Andrea Palladio’s design for a Roman country house that appeared in Robert Morris’s well-known English pattern book, Select Architecture, published in London in 1757. The exceptionally fine interior plaster is attributed to renowned craftsmen John Rawlings, recently arrived from London. The equally skillful woodwork is thought to be the work of William Buckland, as it bears resemblance to details in Honington Hall in England, where Buckland is known to have studied, as well as the superb work he executed for the Hammond-Harwood (MD-01-003-0010) and Chase Lloyd (MD-01-003-0098) houses in Annapolis. The level and quality of the ornamentation displayed in these houses had never before been seen in Maryland. Only a single story in height, Whitehall is unusually long, extending almost 200 feet; it includes both river and carriage front elevations. The river front is the primary elevation and incorporates the first use of a full temple portico on a residential structure in America.
The construction of Whitehall began with the center portion, which includes a grand hall and flanking lower-level parlors or withdrawing rooms. It was used by Governor Sharpe as a retreat and for the entertainment of guests embarking on boating pleasure trips along the Severn River from the nearby capital city, Annapolis. Sharpe referred to the site as his “farm,” upon which was sited “a small, elegant lodge.” Although likely planned from the start as a five-part composition, the hyphened wings were not erected until 1769, when the royal governor was forced into retirement, and took up full-time residence at Whitehall. Sharpe left for England in 1773 and although he never returned to Whitehall, the property remained in his possession until his death. At that time, it passed to his former colonial secretary and friend, John Ridout, and it remained in the Ridout family for over a century.
Whitehall follows a pattern indicative of Palladian design, comprising a center block housing the principal reception rooms, raised above a service floor, from which radiate low, symmetrically balanced colonnades and connecting wings. The three central bays of the main block, encompassing the great hall, is shaded by a monumental portico; used here for the first time in an American residential design, it became a classic feature of American interpretations of Palladian design. The large pediment of the portico is ornamented by a carving of the Great Seal of Maryland and is supported by fluted Corinthian columns. Beneath it, the richly carved entry entablature follows a design appearing in the 1742 guidebook, The Modern Builder’s Assistant by Halfpenny, Morris and Lightoler. Its Palladian-influenced piano nobile is most apparent from the opposing side; Whitehall is slightly banked so that from the (rear) carriage approach the basement that housed the governor’s office and dining room can be entered from ground level, with a stair to the main salon above. The flanking hyphens appear in the form of closed, arcaded passageways that lead to single-story, four-bay, pyramidal roof wings, also resting on a raised basement.
Whitehall also features a richly appointed interior. The great hall at the center has a coved ceiling that rises to a height of twenty feet and includes plaster satyr-like masks in the corners where the ceiling meets the modillioned cornice. The entire room is ornamented with Neoclassical and Rococo details including window surrounds with lateral consoles, doorways with full entablatures, and festooned plasterwork, much of which is highlighted by multi-colored paint and gilding. The flanking parlors are also elaborately detailed. About 1793, during the ownership of the Ridout family, the flanking withdrawing room sections were raised to meet the roofline of the center section, thus adding second-level bedrooms. After a painstakingly researched investigation in 1957, this section was restored to its original appearance. The interior details remain in original condition. The integrity of the environmental setting also remains; in true Palladian form, reference to the setting is implicit in the design of the house, which enjoys a panoramic vista from the front portico to the Severn River. Guests arriving by boat from Annapolis at the time of Whitehall’s construction would have approached the house from this direction.
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Heintzelman, Patricia. “Whitehall,” Anne Arundel County, Maryland. National Historic Landmark Nomination Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Lane, Mills. Architecture of the Old South: Maryland. New York: Abbeville Press, Publishers, 1991.
Scarlett, Charles, Jr. “Whitehall.” Maryland Historical Magazine, March 1951.
Ware, Donna. Anne Arundel’s Legacy; The Historic Properties of Anne Arundel County. Annapolis, MD: Office of Planning and Zoning, Anne Arundel County, 1990.