The unpainted hulk of a clam boat was tied up on one side of the dock. On the opposite side was the governor's yacht, "The Maryland Lady." In between was an expanse of bricked park area, dotted by trees, generously supplied with benches and lighted by old-style street lamps.
A double-deck harbor cruise boat maneuvered along the harbor side of the dock and on the inland side was the restored city market, now selling prepared food in addition to fresh fish, meats and vegetables. Around the dock people sat eating lunch, watching boats of all sizes, prices and shapes.
It was Annapolis, the capital of Maryland since 1695 and a living museum of a Revolutionary-era city where the best way to get about is the same way people did 200 years ago - by foot. Even the off-and-on rain we experienced the weekend we were there could not spoil the pleasures of walking.
We first ate lunch at the dock, collecting a sandwich, drinks and fruit from the harbor market. Crab cakes cost $1.79 each and we had those. Then we trooped over to the Storm Bros. Ice Cream Factory beside the dock for our choices of its 40 flavors.
Our first venture was a 40-minute cruise around the harbor to the edge of Chesapeake Bay on the Harbor Queen, a double-decked vessel that leaves the dock every hour on the hour from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends and charges $2 a head, $1 for children 12 and under.
Chesapeake Marine Tours, Inc., also offers a "day on the bay," leaving at 10 a.m. It consists of a 2 1/2-hour trip across the bay to St. Michaels Island for 2 1/2 hours of walking, lunching and museum touring before the 2 1/2-hours return. All that, lunch not included, costs $15 for adults, $7.50 for 12 and under.
A tape-recorded commentary filled with interesting information about the sights was the narration for the trip we took, and our pilot, a young woman, was perfectly synchronized with the tape. The narration pointed out that the dome of the 200-year-old Maryland capitol building often is confused with the dome of the chapel at the Naval Academy, which, in turn, looks much like the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
After the boat docked, we alighted and followed part of a suggested walking tour. We had trouble getting the material for it, though. The Chamber of Commerce office must be run by a banker, for its Monday-Friday office hours are more suited to employees than customers. On our Saturday in town, one of us had to walk up from the harbor and ask several people before being directed to the office of Historic Annapolis, Inc., located in the old treasury building on the capitol grounds.
Guided tours are available there for much of the city with its 18th and 19th-century buildings and of the adjacent Naval Academy.
We walked by the nearly 200-year-old Middleton Tavern, which still serves food; the 250-year-old Shiplap House; the Paca House, which was the home of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the Brice House, one of the largest homes in Annapolis, built in 1766. Only the tavern and Paca House are open to the public on weekends.
We turned in at the Naval Academy grounds at Gate 1, the vistor's gate two blocks from the dock. Through the gate and two blocks straight ahead is Ricketts Hall, which serves as the visitors information center for the academy.
We strolled the beautiful campus, noting how well the modern buildings blend with the older ones. The blue-and-white-striped awnings on the homes of the academy's Navy brass, the fan of walks stretching out from the chapel and spewing fountains with the sailboat-filled Severn River in the background, all lent a peaceful charm to the scene. We watched a midshipman's wedding party emerge from the chapel and pass beneath the traditional crossed swords held by fellow midshipmen.
We left the campus by Gate 3 and walked up Maryland Avenue to our hotel, the Maryland Inn. The inn, more like a run-down hotel, has seen much better days. Carpeting is threadbare, some wallpaper is hanging loose on the walls and the inn generally is not well-maintained.
The prices are geared more to its reputation, location and history than to its quality. But it's the best of bad bargains. The only other accommodations in the town proper are at the 134-room Annapolis Hilton Inn at Hilton prices - i.e., at least 50 per cent higher than in the inn.
The inn, which dates from 1778, is a four-story, triangle-shaped building at the top of a hill just big enough for two large circles. One is Tate Circle with the capitol in the center and the other, connected by block-long School Street, is Church Circle with a church in the center. The inn is on Church Circle.
Built as a 22-room hotel, the inn has ben added to, and its rooms were split in half over the past two centuries to make the current 44 rooms. We got a nondescript room for $24; the couple with us got a nicer room, with fireplace, for $30.
The higher-priced room, though, had no working air conditioner. The room had been assigned even though the front desk knew on the previous day that the conditioner wasn't working during that sweltering weekend and we had checked in early. When we complained, however, the management substituted a larger room with a working air conditioner.
The inn's slogan is "let the historic charm of the Maryland Inn captivate you." It doesn't in the cheaper rooms, but it does in the Treaty of Paris Restaurant, named after the pact ending the Revolutionary War, which was ratified in the old Senate chamber of the capitol. Fireplaces at each end of the room, a huge hurricane globe covering a candle on each table, dark paneling and reasonably spaced tables added to the ambience of an obviously well-preserved old room that had received more attention than some of the guest rooms.
The food was good, the prices reasonable. Two of us had crab bisque and one chose crab cocktail, for starters. A spinach salad that pleased even those of us who don't like cooked spinach, was automatic with the meal. After a wait came the entrees, all in the $8 to $10 range.
One of us ordered a good crab imperial, anothe a seafood mixture baked in a bit too much crust, the third person had flounder stuffed with crab meat - pronounced good but not outstanding - and the fourth steak.With wine from a good selection at restaurant-reasonable prices, and coffee, the bill came to just short of $60, not a bad price for four.
Our friend, a visiting Australian, wanted to attend a church service in the Academy's chapel. He had served in the Australian navy in World War II when his ship and two American ships were sunk at Guadalcanal. The anniversary had occurred the week before we visited Annapolis.The service, open to the public, was a different experience. It included posting of the colors; the military-precise ritual of seating the academy commandant; three Navy chaplains; the academy choir and midshipmen reading parts of the service and acting as usheres in the high-domed, impeccably maintained chapel.
After the service we visited the crypt in the basement. It was supposed to be open from noon to 5 on Sundays, but it opened nearly a half hour late. Inside is the sarcophagus of John Paul Jones, whom the academy considers the father of the U.S. Navy. Various medals and documents connected with him line the walls.
We next toured the academy museum which, like the crypt, is open from 9-5 Saturdays and noon-5 Sunday.
The museum displays many ship models, medals, flags, uniforms, swords and other items tracing 300 years of U.S. naval history. The visitor has to remember that the academy exists primarily for cadets and not for tourists, who can overlook some of the questionable legends fostered at the academy such as the patriotism of the U.S.S. Maine incident and the heroism of Jones.
We strolled up the hill to the capitol and toured it, inspecting the original Senate chamber where George Washington resigned his military commission afte the war, the newly-restored room housing the ship's silver service awaiting a new U.S.S. Maryland, and the House and Senate floors, open to visitors while the legislature is absent. The building itself is the oldest capitol building in the United States in continuous use.
After a little more sightseeing we left town, driving five miles south to Edgewater and the London Town Publik House. London Town was a port and site of an important ferry crossing the South River, but the town ceased to exist after the 18th century when it couldn't compete with other better ports, like Annapolis and its wealthy slave trading.
Restored on the site is the Publik House, which operated as an inn from 1744 to 1750.Restoration was begun only five years ago and operation of the site is still in its shakedown stage. Besides the Publik House, the site includes a boat dock, picnic grounds, a 1720s tobacco barn and a lovely woodland garden that now apparently has to be reached by passing a smelly county sewage facility.
A tour of the house (by a rather poorly informed guide the day we were there) coats $1 for adults and 50 cents for children 6 to 12. It's open 10-4 Saturday, noon-4 Sunday.
The Annapolis Chamber of Commerce is at 171 Conduit St., Annapolis, 21401, or (301) 268-7676; Historic Annapolis, Inc., open seven days a week, 9-4, is (301) 267-8149; Chesapeake Marine Tours, Inc., (301) 268-7600; U.S. Naval Academy (301) 267-2291, and the London Town Publik House, 839 Londontown Rd., Edgewater, 21037 (301) 956-2737.