One of Maryland's lost towns, on the south bank of the South River, a town which might have made it big, but which was out-competed by a larger neighbor.
In November, 1683, Maryland's General Assembly set up a system of ports for the inspection and taxation of the colony's largest cash crop, tobacco. Most of the new ports failed, but at least two survived. One of these was a ferry landing on the southern shore of the South River, on land owned by a "Coll Burges". The ferry was part of the largest road1 in the Colonies at the time, connecting Williamsburg with points north, such as the recently-founded Philadelphia. The landing was also the nearest tobacco port to most of southern Anne Arundel County. And so, hogsheads began rolling down the rolling roads to this landing. Travelers would stop to wait for the ferry, and would occasionally have to wait out the night. The perfect place for a tavern. A certain Edward Rumney opened a tavern in London towards the end of the 17th century, obtaining a license for it in 1709.
London grew into a thriving little port town. Maps from the period show only four or five towns: St. Mary's City, London, Annapolis, Baltimore2, and maybe Joppa.
Unfortunately for London Town, one of the other 1683 tobacco ports that survived was a few miles away on the Severn River, across from the old Providence settlement. "Proctors" became "Ann Arundel
Town". Since Maryland's center of population had shifted to the area, the General Assembly moved the capital to Ann Arundel Town in 1695, renaming it Annapolis.
Maryland's tobacco farms were a mixture of small holdings and large plantations worked by teams of slaves. The economy of Maryland evolved to the point that the large slaveholding plantations were more profitable than the smaller farms. This led, in turn to tobacco of varying quality. The plantation holders, who had more clout in the General Assembly, saw smaller farmers as dragging them down, making their tobacco less competitive with that of Virginia and Carolina. In a 1747 effort to control the quality of tobacco, the General Assembly enacted a law decreeing that tobacco had to be inspected in a public warehouse before being exported. London was not on the list of places to receive a public warehouse. Neither was Annapolis, but a special exception was made, allowing residents of the capital to export tobacco without inspection. The Revolutionary War caused an economic depression that finished London Town.
Robbed though it was of its reason for existence, London continued for awhile. It even became the site where one man would attempt to fulfill his dreams. In 1760, William Brown, a successful cabinetmaker, and owner of the South River Ferry, decided to build a new inn out of brick, the first (and only) brick building in town. The Georgian-style inn was very expensively built, with header bond on all four sides, and containing many Palladian architectural elements, which were all the rage at the time in the Colonies. The building was so expensive that Brown was in debt for the rest of his life. He was forced to hand the deed over to his principal creditor's estate in 1782. But it was an empty asset: By 1800 London Town was gone, with William Brown's inn the only building left standing, and the land had been clustered into four farms.
The London Town site survived through a curious string of events: In 1828, Anne Arundel County purchased William Brown's inn and turned it and the grounds into the county poorhouse, which it remained until 1965. In the 1950's
and 1960's, a large area south and east of the old town site was developed as the subdivision of 'Londontowne', a hodgepodge of getaway homes which is now a middle-middle-class suburb of Annapolis.
After the County closed its poorhouse, the mansion sat and decayed for 25 years. The Western end of the site became a botanical garden, the favorite project of retired admirals' wives.
By the 1990's, interest in the site's historical importance began to grow. Anne Arundel County created the Lost Towns Project in 1991, and appointed Dr. Al Lukenbach as its county archaeologist. Archaological digs have revealed a great deal of information about life in colonial Maryland. The William Brown House has been restored to a point where it resembles the inn it once was.
Anne Arundel County now operates Historic London Town and Gardens as a county park. London Town resembles a miniature version of Colonial Williamsburg, with docents leading tours and interpreters in period costume. The grounds are used for school tours, and the garden is rented out for weddings. There is a small gift shop and a $7 charge for an audio tour, but the park's commercialism is nothing compared to the obscene levels of Colonial
To reach London Town from Baltimore, take I-97 south to the interchange with US 50, but take the ramp for Maryland 665 instead. From Washington, take US 50 east to the interchange with I-97, but
take the ramp to 665 instead. Follow 665 to the Solomons Island Road exit. Take Solomons Island road south to Mayo
road. Turn left on Mayo Road, and follow it two lights to Londontown Road. Tirn left again, and follow Londontown
Road all the way to its end.
1Remember that "roads" as such were superfluous in early Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay making it much
easier to sail or row between any two places you wanted to go.
2Not the Baltimore you're thinking of, but the original Baltimore on the Bush River. The one you
can't visit without first getting a platoon to sweep for unexploded ordnance and stray mustard gas shells.
Maryland State Archives - Archives of Maryland Online
Volume 7: Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly October 1678 - November 1683.
pp. 609-610 An Act fr the Advancement of Trade.
Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, August 5, 1745 - December 23, 1747
Volume 44, page 595-641 (esp. 608 and 612): An Act for amending the Staple of Tobacco, for preventing Frauds
in his Majesty's Customs, and for the Limitation of Officers Fees.
Historic London Town and Gardens
The Lost Towns Archaeology Project, Anne Arundel County, Maryland