In historic Annapolis, there are basically three kinds of buildings: old, older, and oldest. The elegant Hammond-Harwood House is one of the oldest--and perhaps the most remarkable and beautifully furnished. Open to the public for tours, this fancy mansion on the corner of King George Street and Maryland Avenue was constructed in 1774 for the American Revolutionary figure Matthias Hammond.

Hammond-Harwood HouseHammond-Harwood House Front facade, courtesy of Hammond-Harwood House

Son of a wealthy Gambrills plantation owner, the young Matthias was a Maryland legislator and an ardent supporter of liberation of the thirteen colonies from England’s rule. He needed an in-town place to live and entertain. He probably also needed a fashionable home to attract women of society, although Matthias never did marry or live in the house.

The elegant Hammond-Harwood House was designed by renowned architect (and former indentured servant) William Buckland. The brick house stands today as a perfectly preserved five-part Anglo-Palladian mansion featuring beautiful woodcarving and plasterwork. Thomas Jefferson considered the home’s decorative front door the “most beautiful door in America.”

The Hammond family descendants later married into the Harwood and Buckland families, and those heirs occupied the house through 1924. Today the building is owned and maintained by the nonprofit Hammond-Harwood House Association, led by a dedicated Board of Trustees and staffed by museum professionals.

The house is open to the public as an 18th century arts and architecture museum, displaying an incredible collection of Charles Willson Peale paintings, John Shaw furniture, and other beautiful and utilitarian objects of colonial and post-revolutionary life in Annapolis. Peale was a prolific American painter of portraits of leading American Revolution figures. Shaw was an Annapolis cabinetmaker who built exquisite furniture for the early Maryland State House and local dignitaries.

The current “Ladies of Influence” exhibition in the museum tells the story of the visionaries who saved the house from destruction and decay in the 1930s. After the early owners were gone and the home’s antiques were auctioned off, Saint John’s College purchased the structure in 1926. The College planned to restore the old home and create a colonial museum to train scholars, but the Great Depression’s economic collapse and internal struggles ended this enterprise.

The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland leased the house in 1938, and the Hammond-Harwood House Association was formed the same year to purchase and restore the property. The Association launched a successful fundraising campaign in 1940 to save the mansion, garnering support from the Naval Academy, the White House, state governors, the Federated Garden Clubs, and many ordinary citizens concerned about losing this irreplaceable architectural gem.

Some of the ladies involved were members of the Four Rivers Garden Club, an Annapolis charitable organization that today still nurtures its ongoing friendship with the Hammond-Harwood House. In December, Four Rivers will decorate the front door of the House with Christmas greens, while other local garden clubs will help to prepare the museum for the holiday house tours and educational programs described below.

At home with the Harwoods: An 1830s Christmas. Holiday house tours are generally offered on the hour from noon to 4:00pm, December 3-31.

Made at the Mansion: An Afternoon of Children's Holiday Stories & Crafts. Saturday, December 5, 2:00 pm. Children enjoy story time in the decorated ballroom and create colonial holiday decorations, toys, and cookies. Participants learn about the Dutch Christmas traditions of a family of ten children who lived in the house in the early 1800s.

An Early American Christmas Cooking Program. Saturday, December 12, 2:00 pm. Adults and older children enjoy a culinary journey through American Christmas cooking traditions from Colonial times through the Victorian days. Participants prepare and taste old-fashioned Christmas dishes, cookies, cakes, and spiced wassail.

Traditional Boxwood Wreath Sale. Volunteers create and sell traditional boxwood wreaths using greens picked from the garden at Hammond-Harwood House and other historic homes. Order your wreath on the Hammond-Harwood House website. Sign-up as a volunteer to make wreaths at Boxwood Wreath Workshops during the first week of December.

Brown Bag Lunch Tours. 12:30 pm on most Tuesdays. Lectures and tours are offered on varying topics about decorative arts, social history, and architecture.

When you visit Annapolis during the holidays, don’t miss touring the Hammond-Harwood House and seeing firsthand the museum’s classic architecture and elegant furnishings and paintings. This historic home is truly “The Jewel of Annapolis.” The Hammond-Harwood House hosts many other tours throughout the season for adults, as well as educational programs and field trips designed for school children. Learn more on their website.

Photos courtesy of Hammond-Harwood House and Ann Powell. The writer is the current President of the Four Rivers Garden Club.