William Brown House: Through the Years

In celebration of Historic London Town and Gardens’ 50th anniversary, we wanted to share a look back over how our most historic building, the c.1760 William Brown House, has changed over the years.


As you may know, the William Brown House was constructed around 1760. It originally served as a tavern, where travelers and locals could eat, drink, and share news. Travelers could stay in the building. You can learn more about who and how the building was used in our free virtual tour at www.historiclondontown.org/wbhtour.


However, as the 18th century ended, London Town became more rural and less of a destination. An upscale tavern was no longer needed. Brown lost the building in bankruptcy.


In the 1820s, the House was converted into Anne Arundel County’s almshouse, a place for people who had nowhere else to go.


The first known image of the William Brown House appears in an oil painting of the ferry landing at London Town. The painting was originally created in 1840 by Mary Duval. Unfortunately, we don’t have the original, but this is from an 1887 copy by Mamie Steuart. We’re looking at the Brown House (far right) from across the South River. It is painted white at this time.



The next known photo is this one from the early 20th century, when it continued operating as the almshouse. As in the painting, the building is still whitewashed.




In later almshouse images from the 1930s and 40s, the whitewash has faded considerably. You’ll also notice a screened in porch. Now we also have photos of the interior, including the kitchen. Most importantly, we also have photos of some of the residents of the almshouse.






The almshouse closed in 1965 with the passage of the Social Security Act. Anne Arundel County and the London Town Publik House Commission restored the William Brown House and turned it and the surrounding grounds into a museum and public gardens.


The William Brown House was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service exactly on April 15, 1970. Exactly one year later, the first visitors signed the registry.


The dedication ceremony was held on July 25, 1973. Janet Chess, Acting Superintendent of Fort McHenry, gave 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.



We found a few photos tours inside the William Brown House from c.1977. Please let us know if you recognize any of the people! You can email us at londontown@historiclondontown.org.






In recent years, the William Brown House has undergone preservation work intended to mitigate moisture infiltration and update the electricity and HVAC. Here is a photo from work performed in 2018 to repair the window sashes.




The second phase of work is nearly complete, and we look forward to welcoming you back inside the William Brown House later this summer! In the meantime, please tour the building virtually here: www.historiclondontown.org/wbhtour.


William Brown House, 2018, photo by Bob Peterson

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