MHT File Photo
Colonial Annapolis Historic District
Annapolis, Anne Arundel County
Departing from the grid pattern characteristic of many American towns, the planners of Annapolis adopted a modified baroque plan, first applied by French baroque designers in garden layout, as at Versailles. This influence soon spread to England and was adapted by Christopher Wren and John Evelyn for the rebuilding of London after the 1666 fire. In the accepted planning practice of this style, the highest and most commanding locations were reserved for the State House and St. Anne's Church. The focal point was a large (528' diameter) public circle where the State House would stand dominating harbor and town. Nearby was a smaller (340' diameter) circle set aside for the publicly supported Anglican church. From the two circles a system of radial streets extended outwards toward the edges of town. Those leading directly into State Circle have a pinwheel alignment, so no one is directly on axis with the center of the circle. Because of this arrangement, the plan fails to achieve one of the major aims of baroque design, which is the creation of terminal vistas by ending diagonal streets at some great public building, monument, or natural view. That the planner did not fully comprehend the problems of baroque layout is also seen in the awkward land shapes which result from the many lots bisected by diagonal streets.
Annapolis, capital of the colony and later the state of Maryland, was one of the first planned cities in colonial America. The original town plan was designed in 1695 by Sir Francis Nicholson, the second royal Governor of Maryland. Unique for the period, the modified baroque plan represents an attempt to create a European urban environment in a North American setting. With few modifications, Annapolis developed in harmony with the original plan to emerge in the mid 18th century as the focal point of Maryland government, politics, and commerce and as a center of provincial wealth and culture. Streets within Old Town have been widened and a few street names have been altered, but the original plan is little changed. Remaining in the district are 120 18th century buildings. Other National Historic Landmarks within the district are the State House (1772) and Hammond-Harwood House (c. 1774).