+ By Christine Fillat + Photos by Alison Harbaugh
I’m going to tell you of a city on the water that needed a place for her people to buy provisions for food and gather to shoot the breeze and be a part of a community. This is the story of the Annapolis Market House and its many incarnations. Historical background presented here is based on Ginger Doyel’s 2005 book, Gone To Market: The Annapolis Market House 1698–2005.
In 1683, leaders set up a grid to organize 100 acres for the newly named Anne Arundell Town and mandated that some land be set aside for a central location for city people to buy and sell goods. In 1695, when the town was rechristened Annapolis and became the state’s capital, a market was built at the corner of Duke of Gloucester and Market Streets. Following a complaint from “Perry the Postman” that the structure marred the view from his property, the market moved to the intersection of State Circle and Maryland Avenue. It moved three more times, landing on State Circle near the old Treasury Building in 1752, where it remained until September 2, 1775, when a terrific windstorm blew it down.
In 1784, eight businessmen deeded portions of their waterfront properties to the city to provide space for the Market House. Those men—Nicholas Carroll, James Maccubin, Jacob Hurst, Charles Wallace, John Davidson, Thomas Harwood, and Joseph and James Williams—made a condition in the deed that the land would be used solely for a market house. Although the structure was built that year in a spot just southwest of today’s Market House, it was on the same property. Working hours for the market were established by the city and a market master was hired. The building was rebuilt in 1819.
The eighth and final rendition of the Market House was built in 1857. Constructed with cast iron columns, this is today’s structure . In 1888, it was wired for electricity, and it was enclosed in 1894. Old Bay Seasoning was sold there for the first time in 1939. In 1941, the city tried but failed to raze the building to make way for a USO center for Caucasian soldiers. A gym occupied the east half of the building from 1945 to 1950.
During the 1970s, city efforts to demolish the Market House to make way for a high-rise building failed due to the efforts of Historic Annapolis, spearheaded by historian Anne St. Clair Wright. Champions for the Market House introduced a “Reverter Clause” in which the land deeded to the city for the Market House would revert to the heirs of the original 1784 landowners if the land were used for any purpose other than a market house. From 1969 to 1972, Annapolis architect James Wood Burch directed a vast renovation of the structure. It revealed the architectural integrity of the original 1857 design—the building, like much of Annapolis, had weathered wars and folly.
The advent of the 1980s presented new challenges for the Market House. Lifestyles changed, and the market had to redefine itself and its mission to the community. Structural systems had to be brought up to modern-day standards. The market closed and later reopened with a different combination of tenants and operators, trying to make a business model that had longevity.
Annapolis architect Chip Bohl has restored many historic buildings, including the Frederick Douglass House in Highland Beach and the B&A Trail Ranger’s Station in Earleigh Heights. He finds the Market House to be the most valuable and important retail space in Annapolis. “If the Market House is not healthy as a retail destination, then all of the retail in Annapolis suffers,” he says. “This is the prime retail real estate in Annapolis. It needs to be healthy. It needs to be vibrant. It needs to be packed.”
Long gone are the days at the Market House with its stalls of live chickens and fragrant bouquets of flowers and produce for sale from farms from the surrounding counties. Today, you are more likely to see locals and tourists gliding in on the polished concrete floors with the promise of a briny oyster and a glass of crisp local brew, or a cup of coffee, or some other of-the-moment culinary creation. Michele Bouchard, Jody Danek, and Joe Lyon are the Market House’s only tenant. They have created a beautifully lit, elegantly simple configuration of conviviality. Open since July 2018, the color scheme is black, white, and natural wood. A stunning window runs the entire length of the building, facing waterfront Ego Alley, where all of humanity may be observed passing by. People of all ages meet at the communal tables for a bite to eat or simply to socialize. Someone always seems to be working on a laptop computer. Schoolchildren hang out there at the end of their day. This is Annapolis’ newest living room.
Ellen Moyer, former Mayor of Annapolis (2001–2009) considers the Market House a gathering spot. In relation to its neighboring restaurants, she says: “The restaurants are restaurants and they don’t really provide that kind of casual [open environment]. The current Market House provides that informal setting. It’s another space for meeting and getting together.”
At its core, the Market House is about human interactions. Is it different than it was in 1683? Most definitely. “It’s a community center with food and beer,” says General Manager Brian Sykes. But it is much more than that. The Market House is something beyond a building. It is the heart of the community. And like the city of Annapolis, it has evolved. █
To learn more about the Market House, visit annapolismarkethouse.com