London Town at 50: The Creation of Historic London Town and Gardens


On April 15, 1971, the first visitors to the London Town Publik House and Arboretum signed the original registry. They toured the c.1760 William Brown House, even as it was being restored to how it may have looked originally as a colonial tavern.


Interestingly, two of the first visitors that day were Alma and Edward Larrimore. The William Brown House had become Anne Arundel County's Almshouse in the 1820s. The Larrimore family had been the last administrators of Almshouse when it closed in 1965.


Since then, Anne Arundel County and the London Town Publik House Commission had begun the process of restoring the building and turning the site into a museum and public garden. The William Brown House had been designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service exactly one year before its first visitors on April 15, 1970.


However, it wouldn't be until July 25, 1973 when the dedication ceremony would be held. The photo above shows Janet Chess, Acting Superintendent of Fort McHenry, giving the official National Historic Landmark certificate to Gladys Nelker, Chairwoman of the London Town Publik House Commission, and Joseph W. Alton Jr, County Executive of Anne Arundel County. Photo courtesy of M.E. Warren. His wife Mary Warren served on the London Town Publick House Commission.


It was at the same ceremony when the South River dock was also dedicated, as shown in the photo below. John O. Crandall and company constructed the 175-foot long, all pile driven pier.


At the same time as the Brown House underwent its restoration, the gardens had begun their transformation from overgrown land into a truly beautiful display. The County partnered with horticulturists from the University of Maryland. Professors R.L. Baker and C.N. Johnson, along with Dr. Tony Dove – London Town’s first horticulturalist – created a plan. The gardens were designed to showcase what could grow in the Chesapeake region.


In the photo below from 1967, County Executive Alton appears again, alongside Hope Andrews and William A. Stallings. Together, they dedicated the first tree at London Town, which had been donated by the North Shore Garden Club.

Notably, Dr. William Ackerman, who would test his cold-hardy camellias at London Town over a decade later, named one of his camellia hybrids 'Winter's Hope' in honor of Hope Andrews. This camellia continues to bloom in our gardens each fall and winter.


There was considerable work to transform the gardens. Below is an undated photo from the early 1970s of Dove and others working to develop the Dell. Photo courtesy of M.E. Warren.


They largely planted exotic, botanical specimen plants nestled in between open meadows and downstream ravines. The open meadows were modeled loosely after Royal Botanic Kew Gardens in England. Many of the original Conifer trees, Magnolias, Azaleas, and Rhododendrons continue to thrive from when they were initially planted.


Below is from an early brochure for the site featuring a hand-drawn map of the entire campus.


As we go into our 50th anniversary, we reflect on the important work undertaken by these founders, and how we continue to build on their effort today. Many of the early plantings remain crucial collections today. Currently, the William Brown House is undergoing the second phase of restoration work to upgrade its electricity and HVAC systems. Countless volunteers, staff, board, and supporters have made it possible to continue building upon the remarkable foundation created in the 1970s. This effort continues into the future, as witnessed in the site's Capital and Operations Improvement Plan.


Learn more about our 50th anniversary at www.historiclondontown.org/50 and explore more of our Improvement Plan at www.historiclondontown.org/2027.


And of course, please come visit! London Town is open Wednesday - Sunday, 10am - 4pm. Plan your visit here.

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