The house located at 19 Maryland Avenue was begun in 1774 by the gentleman planter Matthias Hammond. Ardently favoring the cause for freedom, Hammond was elected to the Maryland government in 1773. At the same time, he had begun working with renowned architect William Buckland on plans for a new, elegant townhouse in the most fashionable area of Annapolis.
Buckland was no ordinary builder. He immigrated to the colonies in 1755 as an indentured servant to George Mason of Virginia. Mason commissioned Buckland to work on his home, a seemingly modest site called Gunston Hall. The young architect is credited with introducing a variety of designs into mainstream architecture in the colonies. After several successful commissions in Virginia, Buckland ventured to Annapolis, where his hand can be seen at the Chase-Lloyd House. The crowning jewel of Buckland’s career, however, was the house he designed for Matthias Hammond. This house was the only one of his many commissions that Buckland designed and executed in its entirety. Unfortunately, Buckland died before the house was finished.
Ironically, the man for whom Buckland erected this masterpiece never lived at the house. Instead, Hammond was living at his plantation in Gambrills, Maryland by the 1780s. In the waning years of the 18th century, the house was rented by many a well-known Annapolitan, including Judge Jeremiah Townley Chase, a one-time mayor of the city. In the 19th century, the elegant mansion was home to the Pinkney and then the Loockerman families. In an uncanny twist of fate, William Buckland’s great-grandson William Harwood married into the Loockerman family, thereby bringing the Buckland clan into the house. William Harwood’s progeny lived at the Hammond-Harwood House until the last surviving member of the lineage died in 1924.
Through the Civil War and World War I, the house remained an enduring fixture in Maryland’s capital city. After the death of Hester Ann Harwood in the 1924, the house seemed destined to become a memory. Fighting off bulldozers, St. John’s College purchased the site in 1926 and used it for their decorative arts program, the first of its kind in the country. The economic woes of the 1930s, however, forced the College to search for new owners. Finally, in 1940, the Hammond-Harwood House was purchased by the newly formed Hammond-Harwood House Association. Since 1940, the site has served thousands of visitors and has become a landmark of colonial architecture.
The Hammond-Harwood House is a five part Anglo-Palladian (derived from 16th Italian architect Andrea Palladio) mansion that features some of the best woodcarving and plasterwork in America. It maintains a kind of symmetry and system of proportions that are rarely seen in buildings of this period. While most 18th century structures were fashioned by amateurs and artisans, the Hammond-Harwood house was clearly the work of a trained professional architect.
The museum proudly showcases the finest collection of colonial furniture in Maryland. With authentic works from Philadelphia, New York, Massachusetts, England, Ireland, and China, the collection represents a broad spectrum of 18th century artistic endeavors.
Crafts from Annapolis are also featured in the collection, with special emphasis on cabinetmaker John Shaw. Shaw’s shop is still standing on State Circle. Today, Shaw pieces can be viewed in almost every room in the house. They include a slant-front bookcase in the Study, an elegant dining room sideboard (an original Harwood family piece), a tall case clock now in the Dining Room, a gaming table covered with a green baize table top, and a host of profoundly beautiful chairs that clearly mark this craftsman as a master of his trade.
Visitors can also get a glimpse of the everyday lives of colonial men and women as they are treated to authentic items like an 18th century watercolor set, a period medicine chest, a surveyor’s set of drafting tools, a delicate sewing kit, a pair of colonial spectacles, a child’s furniture set, and a vast assortment of colonial kitchen artifacts.
The impressive array of portraiture at the house is certainly a highlight. Of special interest are the many images by portrait painter Charles Willson Peale. Peale’s sensitive touch, delicate brush strokes, and knack for capturing the essence of the sitter made him one of the 18th century’s premier painters. Not only does the museum retain Peale paintings that are original to the house, but the Hammond-Harwood House also exhibits one of the most beloved of Peale’s portraits—a painting of six-year-old Ann Proctor. Time stands still for visitors as they examine, first hand, the doll which Charles Willson Peale painted in Ann Proctor’s lap over 220 years ago.
The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve, for public education and enjoyment, the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts.