“This house is not only a part of Maryland, it is the very soul of Maryland. It represents her culture, her history, her beginning.”
-An article from the Eastern Shore Times titled “Maryland Historic Mansion Faces Disaster without Aid” February 22, 1940
In 1924 Hester Harwood, the last private owner of the Hammond-Harwood House, passed away, and the home’s antiques were sold at auction in 1925. In the fall of 1926, St. John’s College purchased the venerable “Old Hammond House” on Maryland Avenue, ultimately changing the future of preservation movements in Annapolis. Led by the ambitious Dr. James Bordley, the college embarked on a plan to restore the old home and create a museum of colonial decorative arts with a program to train scholars. Bordley’s subcommittee to oversee the venture consisted of Mrs. Miles White (Virginia Bonsal White), R.T. Halsey, and Francis Patrick Garvan, who would play a big hand in the fate of the building. White would help acquire the furnishings, Halsey would run the program, and Garvan would finance the project and provide use of his own extensive collection to furnish the house. This decorative arts program was unique for the time and predated Winterthur by two and half decades. Ultimately, strong personalities combined with the economic strain of the Great Depression would be the end of this enterprise in 1932 and a regular tour scheduled ended.
Preservation efforts in Annapolis were not new by the 1930’s, however, a formal organization was not created until December 1935 with the development of the Company for the Restoration of Colonial Annapolis, inspired by Colonial Williamsburg. The Commission included St. John’s College President Amos Woodcock who offered the “wing” of the Hammond-Harwood House as their headquarters. The company moved in shortly after December 1935 and began giving ad hoc tours of the property. In the years between 1935 and 1938 the Company had intentions of purchasing the property and creating, “a museum of colonial antiquities”. In 1938 the Federated Garden Clubs started renting the Hammond-Harwood House and the Commission went on to meet in various member’s homes until they disbanded in December of 1954, giving their remaining funds to the newly founded Historic Annapolis Foundation. Although the Commission lasted less than two decades it can be credited with creating a 1937 map of colonial landmarks and shaping Annapolis’ identity as a city that preserves its heritage.
The economic strains of the Great Depression had crippled St. John’s College, leaving its administrator little option but to sell the Hammond-Harwood House in 1940. In the spring on 1938 the Maryland Federated Garden Clubs began leasing the Hammond-Harwood House in return for repairing and restoring the building. Women played a defining role in early preservation movements in America. Preservation of George Washington’s Mount Vernon in 1860 by The Mount Vernon Ladies Association was the earliest example followed by several other women’s organizations including the Colonial Dames and Daughter of the American Revolution. Mrs. Miles White, who had been so intimately connected with the building under St. John’s ownership, headed up the Federation’s committee to furnish and exhibit the house. Six months after renting the property, the Hammond-Harwood House Association was formally incorporated in the fall of 1938 with the intent to purchase the property and establish a decorative arts museum.
Early in 1940 the college approached the Association with the option to buy the property for $45,000 if funds could be raised by June 1940. In February 1940 the Association launched their campaign to save the colonial mansion on Maryland Avenue. Mrs. Miles White, Mrs. Harry Slack, Rosamond Randall Beirne, the United States Naval Academy, along with many other supporters rose to the challenge.
Between February and June of 1940 a nation-wide campaign was underway. Members of the Hammond-Harwood House Association solicited funds to purchase the property from St. John’s. Concerned citizens, The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, and the Naval Academy among others worked closely with the Association to raise $42,500. Although the effort gained support from First Ladies, Governors, and decorated naval officers, funds were largely acquired through ordinary citizens who were concerned for the buildings and the potential loss of Maryland’s premier architectural gem. Over 1,400 donations from every state in the country were received in six months from February to June 1940.
“That so large a sum was raised at this time was due entirely to the remarkable interest shown all over the country in preserving this beautiful landmark for the public”
– November 12, 1940 Hammond-Harwood House Association
Imagine what it may have been like to witness the campaign in 1940. Would you have joined their efforts? If so, what plans would you have for the museum?
Fun Fact: The funds were raised by the end of June 1940, however, the sale did not go through November 12, 1940 as St. John’s College needed to locate the deed.
After obtaining the building, the Hammond-Harwood House Association’s primary objective was to furnish the home with period appropriate antiques. Mrs. Miles White began a furnishing committee that would last for the next four decades. The committee obtained artifacts with Maryland provenance, preferably from Annapolis, and of excellent quality. The original 1925 Harwood auction records were available and the committee contacted the new owners regarding possible donations or purchases; as a result about 25 to 30 % of the collection is original to the House.
The interpretation of the museum in the mid-20th century reflects a romanticized colonial revival style view of the past. The museum represents the occupation of the first owner, Matthias Hammond, who never lived in the property, and an extravagant wealth that not even the Governor could hope for. The museum embraces this colonial revival heritage and openly acknowledges components of the period rooms reflect that style, and can be teaching tool about mid-20th century collecting practices. Today the Hammond-Harwood House Museum is a cross between a historic house museum and an art museum possessing some of the best examples of Mid-Atlantic decorative and fine arts collections of the 18th and early 19th century.
Rosamond Randall Beirne was born March 8, 1894 the daughter of Daniel R. and Elizabeth Winsor Harding Randall. Her father was postmaster in Baltimore. She graduated from Bryn Mawr School in 1912, but her parents did not allow her to study at Bryn Mawr College. On November 22, 1919 – she married author and Baltimore Sun columnist Francis F. Beirne in Baltimore. She was a gifted author of wrote the following books:
The Hammond-Harwood House and Its Owners (1941)
William Buckland, 1734-1774: Architect of Virginia and Maryland (1958) Available in our gift shop
Let’s Pick the Daisies: the History of the Bryn Mawr School, 1885-1967 (1970)
She passed away Sept. 24, 1969, her devotion to the home was evident in every activity she took on with the museum.
Virginia Purviance Bonsal White was born December 3, 1869. She was the daughter of Stephen and Fanny Land (Leigh) Bonsal. She was also the great niece of Johns Hopkins. On April 23, 1890 she married Miles White, Jr., in Baltimore. Mrs. White was one of the museums greatest assets. She was involved with the museum when it was owned by St. John’s on their furnishing’s committee. She was very involved with the campaign of 1940 and helped to raise the funds by writing to powerful friends. White helped launch the Collections Committee at the Hammond-Harwood House. It is due to White that the museum has so many fine furnishings. White also helped acquire many original objects back for the home. White was also very involved with the Baltimore Museum of Art, her silver collection is on display at that institution. She passed away July 12, 1955. Two years later her friends erected a plaque in her honor, which still can be seen inside the museum on the landing.
Elizabeth Blanchard Randall Slack was born in 1892 and affectionately known as “Bessie.” She was the daughter of Blanchard Randall and Susan Brune. Elizabeth was very active in social welfare activities. She was interested in the Grenfell family’s mission to Labrador. “Bessie” taught a Red Cross class on hygiene and home care of the sick 1914 – 1915. She was elected manager and secretary of the Electric Sewing Machine Society in 1916. This group trained women in in the use of the electric sewing machine so they could become self-sufficient.
Her main interest was working with physically handicapped patients and the following:
Catherine “Kitty” DeWeese was born November 4, 1900 in Wilkes-Barre, PA. She was the daughter of Mary and George Hillman, an Annapolis attorney. Kitty graduated from St. Timothy Academy of Baltimore in 1920. She 1married Wade DeWeese, Naval Academy Class of 1920, in 1921. Kitty accompanied Wade on tours of duty in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, and for several years in China. Captain DeWeese retired in 1949 after 30 years of service. In 1950 Captain DeWeese was selected as Director of the Naval Academy Museum when the couple moved to Annapolis.
Winnie graduated from the Maryland Institute of Art in 1929, with an emphasis on painting and portraiture. She married Douglas Gordon in 1934, who became President of St. John’s College in 1930/1931. The original painting of William Buckland is housed at Yale University, and after various attempts to have the original painting housed at the HHH, it was decided that a “fine copy” be made and permanently housed at the HHH. Yale University Art Gallery allowed a remake of portrait under two conditions: that the copy not be the same size as original, and that the back of the portrait bear a stamp stating that it is a copy. Mrs. Gordon travelled to Yale to create the remake, and completed said portrait in 1947. We are indebted to Winnie for making this wonderful copy. She loved the Hammond-Harwood House and it was clear from all her efforts that she wanted to preserve, promote, and interpret the museum to the best standards possible. Her descendants are active in the preservation of the property through the Winifred M. Gordon Foundation.
The Hammond-Harwood House is indebted to the Maryland House & Garden House Pilgrimage who oversaw early initiatives to finance the buildings maintenance. In 1949 the Maryland House & Garden Pilgrimage’s tour was in support of the Hammond-Harwood House, and the organization continued to support the museum for several years.
The members of the Annapolis Four Rivers Garden Club have a special connection to the Hammond-Harwood House. Their club was the Auxiliary that supported the museum for many years putting on events, fundraising, and overseeing community outreach efforts. Many members of the Four Rivers Garden Club are still actively involved with the organization.
The shop existed for several decades in various sections of the building including the gallery where you are standing and the basement under the main block of the house. At the exhibition you can see items that have survived from the handicraft shop including a photograph of Bobbie Bowers (right). Bower’s was instrumental in the success of the handicraft shop.
In 1963 two dedicated trustees of the Hammond-Harwood House Association, Hope Andrews and Frances Kelly, published a cookbook to benefit the museum. This beloved cookbook has become a staple in many Maryland kitchens. The cookbook was relaunched in 2013. The recipes are all traditional Maryland dishes acquired from across the state. (Andrews, right)
Kelly and Andrews started testing recipes and reading old manuscripts in 1958 and after five years of hard work they produced a masterpiece of 372 pages filled with classic photographs by Aubrey Bodine and Marion Warren and over 700 traditional recipes springing from historic 18th and 19th-century Maryland cook’s notes, diaries, and recipe books. They decided to call the book “Maryland’s Way” as a tribute to local cooks who tended Maryland kitchens in the time before electric ranges, ready made cake mixes, and TV dinners.
Maryland’s Way is more than just a cookbook. It is a history of old Maryland homes, a photographic essay of a way of life that was already fading in the mid-20th century, and a captured moment of the Old Bay State’s culinary traditions. There is a recipe for everyone in Maryland’s Way; for example, for the hunter there is an 1831 recipe for Broiled Venison Steak from Cedar Park on the West River, for the vegan there is Onion Pie from Araby in Charles County, and for the gourmet there is Oysters au Gratin from Mulberry Fields Farm in St. Mary’s County. The historical asides are glimpses of times gone by, like the menu from President James Monroe’s visit to Cedar Park in May of 1818, or the simple supper served to members of Annapolis’s Tuesday Club in the mid-18th century. Maryland’s Way is an encapsulation of the history of a state through the food eaten by its residents.
Unquestionably, women were behind the campaign and creation of the museum. However, an exhibition on our founding would be amiss without noting an important gentlemen in their ranks.
In 1940 Admiral Wilson Brown was superintendent of the United States Naval Academy. A 1902 graduate of the Academy Brown had led an established career in the first World War eventually becoming an aide to President Calving Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. He rose to the rank of Rear Admiral in 1936. When the campaign began Brown became one of the Association’s best supporters. He organized volunteers to create the 1940 banner that hung above Maryland Avenue and gained support from important dignitaries. The Hammond-Harwood House represented an Annapolis from Brown’s academy days. He once wrote,
“Naval officers and their families share with the permanent Annapolitans a deep affection and pride in that fine old house – one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the entire country.”
– Letter to the editor of the Capital from Rear-Admiral Wilson Brown February 29, 1940
Not long after the success of the campaign the United States entered World War Two and Brown was sent to the pacific. Failing health made him return to Washington where he was an aide to President Roosevelt and Truman before his retirement in 1944 where he returned to his home in Waterford Connecticut where he passed away January 2, 1957.