The Carroll House offers unparalleled views of the water from one of the most intact 18th century garden designs in the Chesapeake region. In addition to the house itself, the garden contains three terraces and falls, as well as a seawall and large boxwood allees. A reflection of the Carroll wealth and success, it stands as a monument to their success as Catholic Americans.
In 1986, the Redemptorists invited Archaeology in Annapolis to conduct excavations on the site as part of an ambitious restoration project. Through six seasons of work, Archaeology’s discoveries show a property which seems, on the surface, to be static and unchanging but has actually gone through dramatic change. The landscape study showed three superimposed human landscapes which were charged with social and cultural meanings and how those landscapes changed around 1770, 1853 and 1910. This formal garden is an important cultural artifact for several reasons. It is certainly a beautiful landscape but it also conveyed powerful but different social messages for three centuries.
Several garden features were always visible or were identified during the first phase of excavations. A 400-foot-long, 18th-century stone seawall had been buried behind a wooden bulkhead in 1982. The seawall had acted as the retaining wall for the garden’s lowest terrace. On the other hand, the garden’s plan, which archaeologists found as a result of mapping the site, consisted of five broad, grass covered terraces and four slopes which formed an almost complete right triangle. Its three sides, if extended, would form a large almost exact right triangle. In the Carroll Garden, the waterfront and the western-most ramp, which leads to the kitchen door of the Carroll House, form its right angle. The third side, of hypotenuse, is a brick and stone wall bordering Duke of Gloucester Street. Inside these boundaries, four evenly spaced ramps, each ninety feet apart, run parallel to the shortest leg of the right triangle and cross the flat and slopes. These measurements equate to a 3-4-5 right Pythagorean triangle which used the 45 foot width of the main house (between the current drain pipes) as a base measure. While geometric proportions were common to other gardens in Annapolis, the triangular shape was unique in the city and perhaps the colonies.
Charles Willson Peale provided documentary evidence of garden buildings in an 1804 diary entry describing two octagonal buildings on either end of the seawall. Aside from these pavilions, research revealed no other Carroll-period garden structures.
Archaeologists began learning when and how the garden was created by studying core samples of soil taken from the entire garden. In some areas, archaeologists discovered early garden features such as shovel divots at the base of garden beds and garden drainage ditches relatively close to the surface of the top terrace. In contrast, they encountered six feet of garden fill along the water. These two discoveries helped them understand the magnitude of this 1700s landscaping project. The terraces were created by cutting into the existing, natural hillside and then covering over the beach to create the entire lowest terrace, which was in turn supported by the seawall.
The landscape archaeology, in association with Carroll’s correspondence, proved that this geometrically planned garden was built during the 1770s, the same period when Charles Carroll of Carrollton was expanding his father’s house.
THE 18th-CENTURY LANDSCAPE
Eighteenth-century garden literature provided specific techniques for using geometry to create effects in the landscape. Carroll owned such literature and applied the published design principles to create particular views. By manipulating lines of sight through the use of plantings, paths and terraces, Carroll created visual illusion in his garden that enhanced public and private views of the house. Such manipulation of two- and three-dimensional spaces was popular in baroque design, the style characterizing both the late 17th century Annapolis town plan and its late 18th century gardens. Carroll created optical illusions of depth and distance by terracing his garden down to the water. When viewed from the house, the water appears closer than it is. But down at the seawall, the house appears to be further away than it actually is.
Why would a style that was out of date in England still be popular years later in one of England’s most cosmopolitan colonial cities? One reason may have been that baroque design principles were based on the same Enlightenment philosophy that influenced Carroll and other concerned with 18th century social and political development. Specifically, Carroll had read philosophers who taught that nature and natural laws were expressed in geometry, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences. According to this school of thought, laws of nature also provided models for human institutions. By studying these connections, archaeologists began to see what their 18th century owners may have intended. Formal landscapes were not simply attractive settings but also may be expressed their owner’s intention of understanding the laws of nature and therefore of society.
By building such expansive private dwellings, each with its own manicured landscape and uninterrupted views of the city and its surroundings, Carroll and his peers were also making public statements that they had achieved the social and economic status of society’s leaders. Furthermore, the landscapes placed their owner’s positions in seemingly “natural” and therefore unquestionable realms.
Indeed, the dozen or so classically influenced Georgian-style mansions built in Annapolis just before and after the Revolution, dominated all but two public buildings, the Maryland State House and the Anglican Church. The dominance of these houses is not so obvious today but in the late 1700s relatively few buildings in Annapolis were even made of brick and none matched the elegance displayed by the group of houses. According to this interpretation, members of the planter-elite class in Annapolis who built elaborate homes and gardens just before the Revolution were trying to legitimate themselves as leaders of the colony and the new nation.
THE REDEMPTORIST LANDSCAPE
Viewing this large urban site as a resource in 1853, the Redemptorists initially transformed the house into a novitiate, or school for training men in the priesthood. They also created a more or less self-sufficient farm on the surrounding acreage while remaining somewhat isolated from the rest of Annapolis. Archaeologists used 19th century photographs, written descriptions and archaeological remains to document the buildings constructed on the property in the late 1800s and to understand how the priests and brothers transformed Carroll’s formal garden into a working farm. Excavated structures include remains of a springhouse or smokehouse on the lowest terrace, chicken houses west of the formal garden, and a fifty-foot, three-level underground wine vault west of the house opposite the garden.
After approximately 1900, the Redemptorists stopped both farming the garden and producing wine and then remade the land into a pleasure garden. They planted decorative shrubs and trees, built meandering sidewalks and placed religious statuary in several locations. In 1948, after dismantling a nearby mortuary chapel, the Redemptorists re-interred burials in the garden to form a small cemetery, the most recent large addition to the garden. Archaeologists discovered another clue to the redefined landscape. They uncovered a chalice and paten and a damaged plaster crucifix, all sacramental objects that priests had recently buried together in the garden, thus the garden had become a resting place for priests, brothers and ritual objects reflecting its new religious use. Liturgies, such as the Corpus Christi procession, and its use for private meditations separated the garden from the rest of the more public parish and school parts of the property.