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Historic London Town and Gardens
London Town Publik House, also known as the William Brown House, was constructed between 1758 and 1764 overlooking the South River in colonial London Town. This large, brick, Georgian structure was built by William Brown to serve as both his house and an upscale urban tavern. Brown, an aspiring gentleman, operated the South River ferry. At the height of London Town’s prosperity in the 1730s, it included forty houses, rivaling Annapolis in population. Brown was a joiner, cabinetmaker, and “undertaker” (the modern equivalent of a building contractor), who is also credited with building the Dr. Upton Scott House in Annapolis in 1764.
The placement of the William Brown House on the landscape betrays its urban and commercial purpose as a tavern or public house. Commanding a dramatic view of the South River, the building is oriented facing the remains of Scott Street, the road leading to the ferry landing, instead of the water. Measuring 50 by 40 feet in plan and 49 feet high, it is constructed of header bond brick on all elevations. Header bond, a fashionable and expensive brick bonding pattern, was used extensively in Maryland during the second and third quarters of the eighteenth century, but it was rarely found elsewhere in the colonies. The Brown House is the only known building in the Chesapeake region to use header bond on all elevations.
The principal elevation, facing Scott Street, is broken by a central projecting pavilion, which includes three of the seven bays on the facade. The primary entrance is located in the center of this pavilion. Secondary entrances to the building are located on the northeast side, facing the river, on the northwest or rear, and on the southwest side, all of which are placed in the center of each elevation. The exterior header bond brick walls display a restrained, clean surface, ornamented with a cove and quarter-round molded water table and a plain belt course. The wood cornice survives in an unfinished state with empty slots/mortises for the placement of decorative consoles. A pair of large, interior slab chimneys project from the central deck of a shallow-pitched roof.
Variation in the quality of brickwork reveals the hierarchy of the exterior elevations and their corresponding interior spaces. The front (southeast) elevation displays brick of uniform color and the windows have flat arches of rubbed-and-gauged brick. The river side has similar characteristics, indicating the more formal and prominent nature of this portion of the building. The rear (northwest) and side (southwest) elevations utilize less refined brickwork with a wider range of color and windows with simple segmental arches.
The idiosyncratic floor plan is composed of four elevated corner rooms separated by a central hall and transverse passage. The rear of the central hall accommodates a large public room, which incorporates portions of the transverse passage. The central entrances on all elevations provide access to the hall and passage. Architectural evidence indicates that the interior remained largely unfinished during the twenty years of Brown ownership. The interior trim is very restrained and probably dates to the early nineteenth century. An interior arched opening, located in the masonry wall between the front entry and the rear public room, was discovered during work in the 1970s. Although filled and plastered over at a later time, it may have functioned as part of a corner bar in the entry, allowing beverages to be passed to the entertaining room in the rear.
Due to financial difficulties, William Brown was never able to complete the structure and lost it to debt in the 1780s. By the 1790s, Governor John Hoskins Stone owned and operated it as a tenement. In 1828, Anne Arundel County acquired the Publik House and ten acres for use as the County Almshouse. It continued operation as the “poor house” until passage of the National Welfare Act in 1965, after which it became part of the Anne Arundel County parks system. Today, it is managed by the London Town Foundation as a living history museum with extensive woodland gardens and is known as Historic London Town and Gardens. Intensive archaeological investigations conducted by Anne Arundel County’s Lost Towns Project over a period of two decades beginning in the 1990s, revealed remnants of the once bustling colonial seaport. Two of the buildings have been reconstructed: a 20 x 20-foot tenement and William Brown’s carpenter shop. The William Brown House, a visitor center, and exhibit of the history of London Town are open to the public.
Bourne, Michael, Orlando Ridout, V, Paul Touart, Donna Ware. Architecture and Change in the Chesapeake: A Field Tour and the Eastern and Western Shores. Crownsville, MD, and Newark, DE: Maryland Historical Trust and the Vernacular Architecture Forum, 1998.
Ware, Donna. Anne Arundel’s Legacy; The Historic Properties of Anne Arundel County. Annapolis, MD: Office of Planning and Zoning, Anne Arundel County, 1990.
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