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The City Dock in Annapolis is a water-bound town square, a bulkhead along Spa Creek that draws lingerers of all ages from boisterous teens and snuggling couples to locals with their coffee and newspapers, crews, yacht owners, and the bikini-clad beauties that adorn the luxurious motor craft that tie up here.
Annapolis, Maryland’s state capital, is one of the country’s most scenic cities, with the largest concentration of 18th-century homes and buildings in the United States abutting miles of sparkling waterways. Brimming with restaurants, shops, and historic sites, it is a favorite destination for a day trip from Washington and Baltimore, both just 45 minutes away by car.
The state of Maryland was established by charter in 1629, bequeathed to a member of the Irish House of Lords who wanted to create a haven for Roman Catholics in the American colonies. Although many of its early settlers were Protestants, Maryland, named for the wife of England’s Charles I, became known for its religious tolerance.
When Virginia’s Anglican-led government butted heads with a group of strict Puritans residing on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the group pulled up stakes and headed for Maryland, founding a town called Providence on the banks of the Severn River. The town was relocated across the river from its original site, where it thrived. With its protected harbor located close to the shipping lanes of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic, the town became a stepping-off point for tobacco exports to Europe; it also grew into a major entry point for an even more lucrative business in the southern colonies, the slave trade.
Within 50 years of its founding, the city was known as a center of wealth, with great townhomes and country estates lining its nearby creeks and rivers and a sophisticated, educated population. Near the end of the 17th century, Providence was renamed in honor of Princess Anne, later Queen Anne, who formally rechartered the town as the city of Annapolis in 1708.
Annapolis became Maryland’s colonial capital and even briefly served as the capital of the United States after the Revolutionary War from 1783 to 1784. In its state house, George Washington resigned his commission as general in the Continental Army, and the treaty ending the war—the Treaty of Paris—was ratified. While the city eventually lost its shipping trade to the deeper harbor at the port of Baltimore, Annapolis continued to develop as a maritime destination, known for sailing and racing activities and its yacht-oriented maritime industry.
In 1845 it became home to the U.S. Naval Academy, the country’s military school for training naval officers. But the Academy wasn’t the city’s first university. That distinguished title goes to St. John’s College, the third oldest in the United States, after Harvard and the College of William and Mary. The quads and trees of the campuses of St. John’s and the U.S. Naval Academy, along with the city’s design of circles, orderly streets, cobblestone alleyways, and historic buildings, including Maryland’s State House, with their spires, rotundas, and widow’s walks, create an incomparable ambience in the city.
Along the waterfront, evidence of Annapolis’s stature in the global sailing scene is evident as well. Spa Creek and the Severn River are home to numerous marinas housing some of the world’s finest sailboats and yachts. Large homes line the city’s inlets and smaller creeks, each with its own dock and usually a boat tied to it.
Each Wednesday from April through September, members of the Annapolis Yacht Club hold a regatta; spectators enjoy watching the colorful scene from a drawbridge over Spa Creek or the restaurants and streets near City Dock. During the 2005-2006 racing season, the Volvo Ocean Race included this tiny city of 35,000 in its ambitious around-the-world itinerary.
Annapolis Visitors Center
The main Visitors Center (26 West St., daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day), run by the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau, is just off Church Circle. To get to it by car, you must still briefly suffer Annapolis’s traffic congestion, but once you’ve arrived, you’ll find parking in the adjacent Gotts Court Garage, where you’ll be able to leave your car and walk if you are visiting the city for the day.
The center is staffed by volunteer specialists who can distribute pamphlets and brochures and share their insiders’ view of special events and happenings in the city. At City Dock, the bureau also runs a seasonal Information Booth (Apr.-early Oct. daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.), staffed by the same helpful volunteers.
Getting to Annapolis
Annapolis is 33 miles due east of Washington DC, accessible from the District’s New York Avenue, which becomes U.S. 50. Head east on U.S. 50 and turn right on Rowe Boulevard, bear right or turn a hard right on College Avenue, and you’ll find yourself between State Circle and Church Circle. The City Dock is on the water at the end of Main Street, which is a one-way heading away from the water.
It takes roughly 45 minutes by car to reach Annapolis from DC; in traffic it can take much longer. A car is really the only dependable and viable option for getting from Washington to Annapolis; Greyhound’s bus option is untenable, a trip that requires two transfers and takes more than three hours. There is no rail service.
© Patricia Nevins Kime from Moon Washington DC, 1st Edition