Historic Structures

Brice House, Annapolis Maryland

Date added: November 30, 2018 Categories: Maryland House

The Brice House was constructed in 1766-73 for Colonel James Brice, who was soon to gain fame as a soldier during the Revolution. The architect is unknown but there is evidence that William Buckland, who arrived in Annapolis in 1771 and died in 1774, worked on the interiors of the house. The residence remained in the possession of the Brice heirs until 1874. After passing through the hands of several owners, the house was purchased by St. John's College in the 1920s and used as a faculty residence. The building was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Stanley S. Wohl in 1953 and carefully restored between 1953 and 1957.

Standing on a high terrace above the street, the Brice House is a fivepart composition 156-feet long. It is comprised of a two-and-a-halfstory central block over an elevated basement--about 52-feet wide and 45-feet deep—two one-and-a-half-story hyphens, each 27-feet long and 18-feet deep, and two symmetrical one-and-a-half-story wings, each 26-feet wide and 45-feet deep, built at right angles to the main axis. The end wings project about 22-feet forward (south) of the street facade of the main block. Each section has a steep gable roof; the roofs of the hyphens and end wings are dormered. At each end of the central block a wide, chimney rises high above the roof, capped with a corbelled brick course. The wings also have a set of wide, thin, but lower chimneys.

The foundation of the central block is fieldstone of great thickness. The massive walls of the south (street) and north (garden) facades are of an all-header bond of oversize brick. The gable ends are of English bond. The street elevation of the main house has a molded brick water table and a brick belt course at the second floor level. The windows on this five-bay front have flat arches of rubbed brick and those on the other three sides have segmental brick arches, with brick filling the portion between the arch and window head. First story; windows have nine over nine light sash and second floor windows nine over six sash. The center doors of the north and south facades are approached by sets of reconstructed wooden steps and stoops; these are based on an 1863 photograph of the house, which is believed to show the original approaches. The rectangular street-front doorway is framed by a wooden architrave. These deeply recessed double doors are original. The existing lock and knocker are reconstructions. The center door of the north or garden facade is topped by a segmental arch. The segment is filled with brick leaving a rectangular opening, within which the original architrave trim is set. This double door is a reconstruction, copied from the original doors on the south entrance.

The south facade is enriched by the uniquely designed pseudo-Palladian window over the center door and by the correspondingly designed main cornices of both main elevations. The cornices have a frieze formed of tiny carved arcades supported by turned balusters. The south Palladian or triple window is set in an opening spanned by a segmental brick arch. The window is framed by four fluted Corinthian colonnettes of wood with large capitals and bases resting on low pedestals. Above the colonnettes is a carved wooden cornice. The central block was originally covered with cypress shingles. When two layers of later sheet metal roofing were removed in the 1950s, the original shingling was found to be still in place In order to comply with the modern building code, the original covering has been replaced by imitation shingles made of tile.

The Brice House has an asymmetrical interior plan. The off-center entrance hall extends from the south (street) elevation halfway through the house. On the right (east) is a very small office, one-bay wide, and beyond (north) is a lateral hall leading to the east wing and also containing the stair, which is located against its north wall. A single door in the west (left) wall of the hall leads into the parlor, which is two bays wide. A door in the north wall of the hall opens into the large ball room which occupies three bays of the north side of the house. To the west (left) of the ballroom is the dining room, which is two bays wide. Most of the interior details are late-Georgian in character. Walls are plastered, not paneled in wood, though the plaster is molded in the form of panels in the ballroom and dining room. The fine stairway is of Santo Domingo mahogany and has scrolled step ends with a band of Greek fret ornament. The ball room, probably done by William Buckland, is one of the great rooms of the Georgian period. Its scale is even larger and its effect more monumentual than the large ballroom in the Hammond-Harwood House (1773-74), also by Buckland. In the Brice House there is a range of three openings across the north (rear wall and a pair of windows flanking the chimney breast in the end wall. The carved wood fireplace, with its exceptionally ornate lateral consoles flanking the opening, its ornamented frieze and eared overmantel panel, comes directly from the plates of Abraham Swan's British Architect (1745). The ballroom also has elaborate plaster cornices, rich with acanthus, dentils, and modillions, and a full Corinthian entablature. First floor rooms are wainscoted in wood; the four bedrooms on the second floor have plaster wainscoting with wood base and dado rail.

Each hyphen contains two rooms and a narrow passageway on the first floor. The kitchen and servants' quarters were located in the east wing and the carriage house in the west wing.

The house was meticulously restored after careful research in 1953-1957. Throughout the Brice House all of the original 18th century structural materials and adornments have survived, including the walls and cross walls, horizontally wood-pegged flooring, window glass and mahogany window frames; iron hinges, most of the hardware and doors,elaborate wood carvings, chair rails, plasterwork, and all eight mantels are original. The original room colors were also discovered and these have been restored. In excellent condition, the house is used as a residence and is not open to visitors.