Built between 1763 and 1765, the William Paca House and Garden was part of an impressive building campaign launched by the wealthiest Annapolis families during this time period. On the eve of the American Revolution, the Pacas joined Stephen Bordley, followed by Dr. Upton Scott, John Ridout, James Brice, Matthias Hammond, and Samuel Chase to build houses on a grand scale in Maryland’s capital.
In 1764, William Paca, an attorney and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, married Mary Chew, daughter of a wealthy and politically prominent Maryland family. Within days of marriage, the Pacas purchased lots 93 and 104 on Prince George Street in Annapolis and commenced construction of their large brick Georgian house. It is believed that William Paca may have served as his own architect. The Pacas chose the popular five-part plan, consisting of the main block and two flanking wings connected to the main portion of the house by hyphens. However, the Paca plan is rendered atypical through the use of a prominent two-story projecting tower on the garden elevation. Although found in earlier colonial houses as a device to control room circulation, the Paca tower also provides an excellent vantage point to view the formal garden.
The main block of the house rests on a raised stone foundation with galleting. Its principal facade, facing Prince George Street, is laid in header bond, a fashionable brick bonding pattern used predominately in Maryland during the second and third quarters of the eighteenth century. The front and rear elevations are further embellished with a molded brick water table and plain belt course. The rear elevation, gable ends, hyphens, and wings are laid in English bond. Large slab chimneys are located at the gable ends of the main block giving greater height and prominence to the edifice. Dormer windows punctuate the massive gable roof.
The interior plan of the house utilizes a central passage, which runs the full depth of the house leading into the projecting tower. The stair to the upper floors rises from the side of this hallway, allowing for open circulation within the passage. On the first floor, the two rooms flanking the passage on the Prince George Street side served as parlor and drawing room or hall. The dining room overlooks the garden at the rear of the house. A small room behind the stair, with easy access to the tower room and garden, may have functioned as a study for William Paca. Alternatively, it may have been used in a service capacity or as storage. Second-story rooms consist of three chambers, presumably for bedrooms, and a small dressing room behind the stair. The tower rooms on both floors were probably used as small sitting rooms. Archaeological evidence indicates that the kitchen was located in the southeast wing. The most elaborately finished room is the parlor on the first floor, which includes an ornate cornice and decorative crossetted overmantel. During restoration work in the 1970s, ghostings of delicate floral and scroll plasterwork were found surrounding this overmantel.
William and Mary Paca’s occupation of their grand house was short-lived following Mary’s untimely death in 1774. In 1780, Paca sold the house to Thomas Jennings, a former attorney general of Maryland. During the late eighteenth century, one of the most significant tenants was Henri Joseph Stier and his family, who had emigrated from Belgium. Stier is known for his important collection of European art and for his construction in 1801 of Riversdale in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
The most dramatic change to the Paca House occurred in 1901 with its conversion to Carvel Hall Hotel. The transformation included the addition of a massive wing extending toward King George Street in the location of Paca’s garden. In the 1960s, Historic Annapolis, Inc. purchased the house and the State of Maryland acquired the site of the garden. After extensive work, the garden was restored and opened to the public in 1973, followed by the house as a museum in 1976. Restoration of the garden’s iconic summerhouse was based on the portrait of William Paca by Charles Willson Peale. Both the house and garden are open to the public.
Miller, Marcia and Orlando Ridout V, eds. Architecture in Annapolis: A Field Guide. Crownsville, MD, and Newark, DE: Maryland Historical Trust and the Vernacular Architecture Forum, 1998.