Discover a Lost Colonial Seaport
Whenever I get the chance to take a trip somewhere, I will always use that opportunity to explore some new-to-me historical spot. As a literature teacher and history-lover, I can’t imagine a more enjoyable pastime than nosing around some creaky old building and reading information-packed placards for hours on end. So when I found out about a nearby “lost town” from the colonial era here in our state of Maryland, I knew it would be a perfect opportunity to bring my four and six year-old homeschoolers along for a fun, educational adventure.
Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater, Maryland is the site of a former European settlement and port town where a bustling tobacco trade and ferry crossing flourished along the Maryland waterways 300 years ago. There is one main surviving building, the beautiful red-brick William Brown House, which was constructed between 1758 and 1764, and tells the story of the ambitious carpenter, tavern-keeper, and ferry master who once lived there. This impressive Georgian structure, which is now a Historical National Landmark, sits against the water and serves as an eye-catching focal point for the exhibit grounds, making it an ideal backdrop for private events, weddings, and professional photo sessions.
There are also two post-and-beam buildings open for self-guided tours, which have been reconstructed using traditional methods in their original location based on archeological evidence found within the grounds. Visitors can also take their time browsing the indoor exhibit of the town’s history, the gift shop, and the outdoor Sound and Sensory Garden, all of which are situated on 23 acres of grounds with 10 acres of botanical gardens to enjoy.
For this particular adventure, we picked a lovely fall Saturday in October to visit the site, which is nestled beside the South River adjoining the Chesapeake Bay, a mere 10 miles from the capital city of Annapolis. Coming from our home in Harford County in Maryland, it was a quick one-hour shot down 95 South, through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, and out onto 97 for the last leg of the trip, which led us through a residential area that curls right up to the water.
While the area boasts several nearby restaurants (such as Blair’s Londontowne Pub which partners with London Town for a customer discount, or the Old Stein Inn), we decided to make the most of the mild weather and scenic grounds with a packed picnic lunch (made easy by a quick stop at Wawa for sandwiches and snacks).
Upon arriving, we met the Director of Public Programs, Diane Klein, who gave my eagerly interested daughters a fun, informational, and animated tour of the open buildings and grounds. Tours are included with admission, and there are abundant educational opportunities for kids and adults alike: costumed interpreters who provide demonstrations (temporarily suspended due to COVID); regular in-person school tours and field trips; homeschool programs; and adult attractions, such as “Colonial Cocktails” events, walking tours, and yearly plant sales.
We were immediately drawn into the history of this important and slowly recovered “lost town,” which was once a sizable piece of local history in terms of its population (roughly 300-400 residents in its heyday); its architectural scope (40-50 prior buildings); and its contribution to trade and urban development in the area (a primary trading center beside the Chesapeake replete with houses, ferries, storehouses, taverns, warehouses and workshops). Most traces of London Town have disappeared as of 1965, except for the remaining William Brown House (which is currently closed for tours; however, there is an online virtual tour you can experience through the London Town website). Yet, with the combined efforts of the Anne Arundel County Government, the London Town Foundation, and archeologists, the site is being slowly excavated, rebuilt, and preserved.
My girls were particularly taken with the two reconstructed earthfast buildings: the Lord Mayor’s Tenement and the Carpenter Shop. Both structures contain traditional domestic and carpentry tools that kids can handle and operate, seeing first-hand how they work while learning what life was like during more minimal and austere times. They loved being able to both see and touch the fascinating objects, particularly the spinning wheel, the working wood lathe, and the hammers and brooms. (My kids could have spent hours pushing the limits of their imaginations in those two buildings alone!)
The Sound and Sensory garden was a hit, too, as visitors are encouraged to test a range of impressive percussion instruments. We also made sure to walk through the nearby botanical gardens, admiring the flowers, looking out over the river, racing over the garden bridge, and eating our picnic lunch inside a cozy gazebo near the water.
This is the kind of place where you can leisurely absorb the scenery, the sites, and the history at your own pace, and yet still leave feeling like you’ve packed your visit to the full.
While You’re in the Area
While you can certainly spend a number of hours taking in everything Historic London Town has to offer, you can easily round out your visit with a trip to the state’s capital. There you’ll find our Maryland State House, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the Annapolis Historic District, with its charming architecture, marketplaces, and restaurants. You can also stop to take a load off at Great Frogs Winery, or add to your historical knowledge with a quick tour of the Maryland WWII Memorial.
Lead Photo: Lydia Browning
About the Author
Lydia is a Maryland local and mom of 5 who gets by on coffee and cramming her many hobbies and side jobs into the late hours of the night. She's a literature teacher, family photographer, and history lover who is always itching for a chance to tour something old and interesting. You can find her photography and adventures on Instagram at @Lydiabrowning_.