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5 free things to do in Maryland's historic state capital

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    This March 22, 2014 photo shows the main entrance to Bancroft Hall, the dorm for the Brigade of Midshipmen, at the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md. The Naval Academy is one of a number of free places to visit and see in Annapolis. (AP Photo/Brian Witte) (The Associated Press)

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    This March 24, 2014 photo shows the home of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, in Annapolis, Md. The home is open for free public tours for individuals and groups of up to six people on weekends from June through October. The home also has one of the most intact 18th century garden designs in the Chesapeake region. (AP Photo/Brian Witte) (The Associated Press)

This picturesque state capital near the Chesapeake Bay is known for its history, sailing and seafood. Annapolis served as the capital of the United States for nine months in 1783 and 1784. The city also is known for its colleges — both the U.S. Naval Academy, and St. John's College, founded in 1696 as King William's School. The city's historical ambience is a big draw, as well as its restaurants, shops and taverns. Some of the city's main attractions can be visited for free. The quaint downtown layout over a compact area is better suited for pedestrians than cars, making it ideal for a walking tour.


Maryland's state capitol is known as the oldest in continuous legislative use in the nation, as well as the first peacetime capitol of the United States. The Continental Congress met inside from November 1783 until August 1784. The Old Senate Chamber, which is undergoing renovations to be finished late this year, was where Gen. George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Washington's resignation set a precedent for placing control of the military under civilian authority. In 2007, the state of Maryland bought Washington's personal copy of his resignation speech, and it is scheduled to go on display when new exhibits are installed. Congress also ratified the Treaty of Paris in the building to officially end the Revolutionary War. Lawmakers still meet for an annual 90-day session in the building.

The exterior of the wooden dome was completed in 1788. It was built out of timber with no metal nails. The lightning rod on top is a "Franklin" rod, constructed and grounded to Benjamin Franklin's specifications.


Visitors can walk the academy grounds and enter some buildings free of charge. Parts of Bancroft Hall, home to the entire Brigade of Midshipmen and known as the largest college dormitory in the nation, are open, including the main entrance and Memorial Hall. There is a museum, which has two floors of exhibits about the history of the Navy and the role the academy has in producing officers. There is also the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel and the crypt of John Paul Jones, the famed Revolutionary War naval leader. There also is a restaurant open to the public.


The Banneker-Douglass Museum, named for Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, is dedicated to preserving Maryland's African American heritage. The museum, which has free admission, serves as the state's official repository of African-American material culture. Annapolis also is home to the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial by the City Dock. The memorial commemorates the 1767 arrival of the African slave written about in Alex Haley's book "Roots." A statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore native who was the first black justice on the high court, is on a mall next to the capitol.


Annapolis boasts more original standing colonial buildings than any other city in the nation. The visitor's center offers free maps of downtown historic sites. From May to September, visitors can watch sailboat races, a tradition that dates back to the 1950s. Maryland is the only state where the homes of all four of its signers of the Declaration of Independence still stand, and they are in Annapolis. The home of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer, is open for free public tours for individuals and groups of up to six people on weekends from June through October. The waterfront home also has one of the most intact 18th century garden designs in the Chesapeake region.


The Annapolis Maritime Museum, housed in the city's last oyster-packing plant, is a small free museum overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The museum highlights the oyster and its role in shaping the history and maritime culture of Annapolis. The waterside museum has a small beach and a place for people with kayaks and canoes to enter the water.

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