Built between 1767 and 1773 by wealthy planter, lawyer and politician James Brice, this house is an impressive and intact example of the Georgian five-part-plan urban house. It is one of four of the type in Annapolis, displaying numerous elements that have come to define the distinctive building traditions of the capital city during the mid- to late-eighteenth century. In addition to a symmetrical five-part configuration, these building traditions include the adoption of the Annapolis Plan—a modification of the double-pile Georgian plan in which the center passage terminates against two rear rooms (intended for social entertainment) overlooking the garden. This was perhaps the first residence to utilize the Annapolis Plan.
The Brice House exhibits other distinctive features, such as its massive two-story center block with towering end chimneys and steeply pitched gable roof, stone foundation with galleting, and header-bond brick construction with water table and belt course. Its clean, bold simplicity and imposing scale set it apart as one of colonial Maryland’s great houses, despite the somewhat naïve treatment of a few detail elements. Among its most extraordinary contributions are its extant documentary sources that prove a rare insight into local building practice and the manifestation of social hierarchy within large-scale gentry housing of the period. Brice kept an exhaustive account book chronicling the house’s construction and a room-by-room inventory, recorded in 1802, that identifies furnishings within each of the principal rooms. The documents suggest that Brice acted as his own architect, paying a small fee to an unidentified individual for “drawing the Plann [ sic]”, while referencing a copy of Isaac Ware’s translation of Palladio that he had purchased from London in 1767. The staid exterior of Brice’s house, however, belies the sophistication of the interior details executed by highly skilled craftsmen. In plan, the house mirrors that of Brice’s Annapolis boyhood home, built by his father, Judge John Brice, beginning in 1739.
The entry hall of the Brice House is among the largest in the city. Dominated by a grand stairway with a private study tucked underneath, the hall is the central space from which the adjoining front and two rear public rooms radiate, opening onto each other to create a circular flow. A large drawing room faces the garden and features wainscoting with plaster paneling above, a complex plaster cornice, and an elaborately carved mantel with overmantel. According to Brice’s account book, the plasterwork was likely done by Thomas Harvey, a plasterer indentured to Brice. George Foster, a joiner, made the elegant carved chimney pieces, stair, and bowfat. Adjoining the drawing room to the rear is the sitting parlor, which was furnished in 1802 as a dining room. A room to the front of the house, known as the Green Room, was originally used as a dining room. The second floor contained the private family rooms. The east wing comprised the kitchen and wash house, and the west, a coach house and office.
By the mid-1770s, two other five-part houses occupied the same block as the Brice House: the Paca (MD-01-003-0056) and Hammond-Harwood (MD-01-003-0010) houses. The Brice House remained in the family until 1874. St. John’s College converted the house to faculty apartments in 1927. In the 1950s, new owners returned it to a single-family residence. The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen purchased the house in 1979 for use as an office and meeting facility. The State of Maryland purchased the building in 2014. It is currently under the stewardship of Historic Annapolis, Inc., which embarked on a full-scale restoration beginning in 2016.
Heintzelman, Patricia, “James Brice House,” Anne Arundel County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Miller, Marcia, and Orlando Ridout, V, et. al. Architecture in Annapolis. Annapolis: Vernacular Architecture Forum and Maryland Historical Trust Press, 1998.