Updated: Sep 23, 2021
William Brown House, photo by Jeff Jackson Photography
Preservation work began on the c.1760 William Brown House in August 2018. Now, three years later, we look back on the half-million-dollar, multi-phase effort to ensure the long-term sustainability of this National Historic Landmark.
The initial effort focused on repairing moisture damage to the building. Having faced the South River and Mid-Atlantic weather for over 260 years, the building required repairing or replacing rotted wood in all 38 exterior windows, as well as repointing most of the brickwork. During that first phase, we also undertook work in the attic to fix rotted joists and deteriorating brick supports. Worcester-Eisenbrandt, a Baltimore based firm specializing in historic house restoration, conducted the work. The firm had previously worked on a wide variety of projects, including those at the Washington National Cathedral, Mount Vernon, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
During the first phase, we discovered a lot of space behind most of the exterior windows’ trim. Much of that space had either been empty or just packed with bits and pieces of wood and brick. This lack of structure and support around the windows revealed why many bricks above each window were not staying in place. We also found debris like insect eggs and other trash! Something else that is interesting is that there appears to be ship-style caulking (oakum) at the top of the space, such as the photo below with the ladybugs, who had been nesting there for the winter. Fortunately, Worcester-Eisenbrandt was able to conduct the specialized repair needed to fix the issue. Here are some photos showing the damage to the windows.
Worcester-Eisenbrandt worked diligently on repairing these issues. Here is some of their work in process and afterwards:
Also shown is a large area of mortar that needed to be repaired on the brickwork. There were several other areas where mortar deterioration equaled or even surpassed this one:
What the brickwork looked like before being fixed!
Inside the attic, you can see where the wooden joist had rotted away, and the brickwork became so damaged it was no longer supporting the roof joists. Though the issue had not yet reached a critical point, catching it now made it an easier fix than 4 – 5 years from now. To fix the attic issue, the Worcester Eisenbrandt crew first built a new wooden support frame that will stay in place. The frame is meant to provide support in case other joist/wood sections start to deteriorate in that area. It also helped hold up that part of the roof while the workers fixed the brick and wood. Overall, it took about a week to carefully remove the bricks, clean them, fix the wooden joists, and replace the bricks and mortar.
Attic issues that Worcester-Eisenbrandt fixed!
Throughout this effort, we also worked on interior projects, such as repairing the tavern room door, fixing the southside porch, and other needed improvements. In the spring of 2019, an architectural feature was uncovered for the first time in a century (if not 200 years!): an arched pass-through between the tavern and bar. We believe that this feature was associated with the bar and tavern during William Brown's tenure (c1760-1790). Our best guess as to when the feature was bricked up is sometime during the late 1700s or early 1800s.
Opened up to reveal the archway where a pass-through may have connected the lost bar to the tavern room. The bar is being constructed this summer and will be ready this fall!
Imagine that if the archway was open, then you'd be able to see through the opening into the other side of the wall. If you were standing in the tavern room, then you would probably see into the bar area on the other side of the wall.
The bar side is much rougher than the tavern room side. There are wires and poorly patched brick visible. We know that during the Almshouse period (c1823-1965), that this space was a small closet or pantry. That may be why this side of the wall is in worse condition than the tavern room side. There were several other wires and cables running through the wall at the top of the wall.
While additional work and the pandemic delayed reconstructing the bar, that is finally happening this summer. The bar will be constructed by Andy Shaw, a noted shipwright and restoration carpenter. Shaw has worked on restoring and maintaining the Maryland Dove and her fleet of small wooden boats at Historic St. Mary’s City. Stay tuned for more information!
Unsurprisingly, 2020 delayed the next phase of work on the William Brown House, but it didn’t stop it. We worked with Worcester Eisenbrandt to repair and reconstruct the deteriorated riverside porch. That porch receives the worst weather and thus deteriorates more quickly than the other porches.
Here is what the stairs look like now:
Fantastic new set of stairs and fixed porch on the riverside!
The second phase of work focused on improving the building’s electrical and HVAC systems. The core components of both systems go back to the 1960s or 1970s. Both needed to upgraded to continue operating and to become more energy efficient. We worked with Lewis Contractors and Kelly HVAC to conduct the upgrades, which finished in the spring of 2021. After this work, the building was actually enjoyable to be inside of during the hot, humid summer, and the A/C worked throughout the entire house again.
Fixed windows, repointed bricks, new porch, and updated HVAC and electrical - the William Brown House is looking good and feeling fantastic!
What happens next? There will always be additional improvement needs in a 260+ year old building, but we are grateful to have completed such important preservation work. As mentioned earlier, we’re working on constructing the tavern’s lost bar and planning for future events with it. We’re enhancing the interpretation of the space to focus on the stories of the many people who lived, worked, and traveled through the William Brown House and the Almshouse over the years. New signage is being installed outside of the building, and depending on grants, additional signage will be added inside as well. Look for more interpretation focused on the building during its long run as Anne Arundel County’s almshouse.
It feels appropriate to have completed this work in 2021, the 50th anniversary of Historic London Town and Gardens being open to the public. We hope that you will come out to see the restored William Brown House. Plan your visit at www.historiclondontown.org/visit.
We are grateful for the support of the Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks, Senator Pam Beidle, former Senator John Astle, Anne Arundel County Council, the Maryland Heritage Area Authority, Preservation Maryland, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, former County Executive Steve Schuh, and our many donors who contributed funds to this project.
Want to learn more about the William Brown House restoration effort? Read all of our posts connected to the project at https://www.historiclondontown.org/blog/categories/william-brown-house. You can also take a virtual tour at www.historiclondontown.org/wbhtour.