Annapolis is, by United States standards, a very “olde towne.” It was founded in 1650 before becoming the state capital in 1695. Along the way, many human beings including dock workers and politicians, business owners and craftsmen, immigrants and artisans, have all altered and added to this city’s appearance and appeal. Understanding the significance of those precious years of contribution and protecting the integrity of the historic fabric of Annapolis has been the job of Historic Annapolis through their Historic Markers Program since 1967. Other preservationist organizations perform similar (and sometimes overlapping) services and oversight, but HA is the source from which the plaques, or historic markers are produced and distributed.
But what does this mean for the homeowner – the people behind the plaque?
The historic markers are a way of participating in the charm of the neighborhood, educating the public, and supporting preservation efforts in the community. They come with no added regulations or responsibilities. The people inside these homes have running water (presumably) and don’t wear breeches or petticoats (also presumably). There are about 1,500 historic properties in the Historic District, and approximately 300 of those homes sport a marker. The program is entirely voluntary. The markers are offered at the cost of $500 to any home that meets HA’s criteria. These are examples of homes that display good stewardship and fall into a definable category of architectural style exhibiting a period of significance.
All the houses in the Historic District are compelled to follow the guidelines of the district, regardless of marker. Historic Annapolis has little to do with the compliance aspect of this arrangement. Unlike the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) or the Maryland Historic Trust (MHT), HA has no legislative or legal powers to wield. They are simply the friendly neighborhood advocates and educators. And they make the pretty markers. They can give advice and speak up for those who can no longer speak for themselves, the men and women who dreamt, built, lived, and loved here long before we arrived.
Another critical item to note is that all of these rules and suggestions only pertain to the exterior of the properties. Inside these homes, the owner is just as free to do as he or she pleases as in any other home across the country. The only time any entity has purview over the interior of a home is in the case of an easement property, which is an entirely different level of compliance and restriction.
So, Annapolitans who own homes marked by history and a plaque, live in much the same way modern home dwellers live when it comes to ownership and upkeep. “Replace in kind” are words to live by in Downtown Annapolis (DTA), which simply means if something needs to be fixed or replaced, it should be replaced with the same kind of material, maintaining the same kind of appearance. There are the organizations mentioned above who keep watch over these aspects of the community, similar to a homeowners association. But in this case, what they are protecting is more than an aesthetic or property values. With equal respect for the residents who occupy the homes now, making modern history, and the originators of the cityscape, Historic Annapolis and their Historic Markers Program is a thoughtful and valuable asset to anyone who understands this delicate collaboration – the ongoing work of art that is Historic Annapolis.
For more information on Historic Annapolis’ Historic Markers Program, be sure to visit Annapolis.org.
Special thanks to Karen Theimer Brown for sharing her knowledge and for her endless dedication to preservation!
Images courtesy of Stacey Turner