The first visitors to Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater, Maryland, signed the fresh new registry book on April 15, 1971. At that time, the gardens were still being developed, and the c.1760 William Brown House had not yet finished its restoration work. However, the site still offered these visitors a treasure trove of botanical and historical wonders, alongside gorgeous views of the South River.
Historic London Town dedication circa 1970's. Image courtesy of Historic London Town & Gardens.
Over the course of 50 years, the site has expanded to 23 acres of history and gardens. Today, visitors can discover a modern Visitor’s Center with the Discover London Town exhibit, the c.1760 William Brown House, two colonial buildings reconstructed on their archaeological footprint, a rental pavilion, the Sound and Sensory Garden, and 10 acres of ornamental and woodland gardens, featuring an eclectic display of specimen collections, such as magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons, camellias, and peonies.
Horticulturalist Tony Dove shows guests around the Garden in 1977. Image courtesy of Historic London Town & Gardens.
With so many people in search of fresh air activities, London Town Deputy Director Lauren Silberman says, “Last summer was some of the highest general attendance we’ve ever had. Many people are looking to break the quarantine and view this as a safe place. It’s been very exciting to fill that void for people.”
For its golden anniversary, London Town has 18 months of celebrations slated beginning with a “50th Anniversary Lecture Series” that kicked off this month. Taking place on Tuesday mornings, the lectures explore different facets of London Town’s history. The next lecture takes place on Tuesday, May 4th at 10:30 am with a look at Marshy Point Azaleas which are an important part of horticulture history. The lecture will be held in a hybrid format with the first 30 minutes via Zoom (watch at London Town or from home) followed by an in person tour of the gardens for on site guests.
The William Brown House. Image courtesy of the author.
Founded as a Colonial port town in 1683, the story goes that London Town did well until it didn’t and then fizzled out. The William Brown House, a big brick building on the property, dating back to 1760 started as an upscale tavern. However, as the town dissipated Brown lost the house to bankruptcy in the late 1700s. In 1832, it was purchased by Anne Arundel County and became an almshouse — a story that will be shared during the June 8th lecture. The almshouse was a home for people who had nowhere else to go including the impoverished, mentally ill and elderly.
The gardens are at their peak during Spring. Image courtesy of the author.
When the social security act was passed in 1965 and more modern approaches to social services were formed, the almshouse was closed and came under the care of Anne Arundel County Parks and Recreation. A commission worked to restore the William Brown House and a group began working on developing the land and gardens. Eventually, the London Town Foundation (a 501c3 non profit organization) was founded to operate the site on behalf of the County. The public/private partnership continues today allowing the site to remain open to the public and historic preservation to continue.
The lecture series will continue for six months with more topics to be announced.
Another big part of the anniversary includes honoring London Town’s large volunteer corp. “London Town wouldn’t exist without volunteers,” says Silberman, “It was not that long ago when everything was run by volunteers and a small cadre of staff. Even as professional staff has grown, we’re a small organization and our volunteer corp are instrumental in ensuring gardens are cared for, propagating for our future, giving tours and performing a host of administrative duties behind the scenes.” London Town hopes to bring together volunteers, past and present, for a reunion event next year. In addition, a big public bash is planned for Spring 2022.
The gazebo is often a focal point for weddings in the garden. Image courtesy of the author.
Executive Director Rod Cofield says, “We celebrate the founders’ legacy by continuing to enhance London Town and ensuring we are here for the community for the next 50 years and beyond.” Visioning for the next decade includes improvements to the waterfront to allow more programming and accessibility, like visiting Tall Ships, to take place on the South River. Capital improvements, like the current restoration of the William Brown House, and programming growth and improvements are also on the horizon.
“We’d love to go from being a hidden treasure to being an active and engaged anchor of the community,” says Silberman.
Pink azaleas in bloom at Historic London Town and Gardens. Image courtesy of the author.
To see London Town’s gardens at their peak, plan a visit in the next 5 weeks but don’t shy away from a visit anytime. There’s a whole host of amazing programming for all ages for the 50th Anniversary and into the future.