Stepping out: Historic Annapolis women's home seeks help

December 1, 2013 By TIM PRUDENTE


Taco night arrives by serving cart for the women of Chase Home. They dish out guacamole beneath a crystal chandelier and pass hot sauce amid sterling silver. Since 1886, the Colonial splendor of Annapolis’ Chase-Lloyd house has endured as a refuge for women, some with nowhere else to live. Now they need help from outside their walls. Rot creeps in through the windows. Pipes rust in the basement. So, they’re asking for donations to preserve 18th-century windows and to replace the heating and cooling system. “This is not fundraising to promote the house,” said Carol Kelly, its manager. “This is about caring for the ladies.”


Their home is one of the first three-story Georgian mansions in America. Parlor on the left, dining room on the right — it’s a study in symmetry from the 1770s.It’s believed to be where Francis Scott Key was married. And it’s where women watch “Jaws.” “People think we ought to be a museum,” Kelly said. Recordings of Italian opera sit beside a parlor phonograph.

Rock ’n’ roll plays on a kitchen radio. “These women didn’t come to live in a showcase,” said Molly Smith, trustee for the home.


‘A second chance’


Chase Home has its full complement of eight women these days. Each pays what she can afford. Others await openings. They must live without children or men. They must be healthy enough to dine unassisted. Mostly, they’re widows with grown children — Navy wives, traditionally. Some came from California, Tennessee, Texas. One women worked at the mansion for years as a housekeeper. She retired, moved in, and had to be reminded only staff may dine in the kitchen. Women live in private rooms upstairs. But it’s the basement that gives Joan Lafountaine the willies. She bent over the washing machine one night, alone and imagining Victorian widows rising from the dark. The wash was still wet in her arms as she hurried upstairs. Joan laughs at the memory. She could barely bend to tie a shoelace when she came, almost two years ago. Now she walks to City Dock for coffee, to the Irish pub for sweet tea.

“This gave me a second chance,” she said. She’s 81 and smiles. “I’m not slow. I’m not pokey. I have a better memory.”  When her husband died, she waited to follow him. And now?

“Hey, I’m not ready. I’m not ready.”


Gesture for women


This refuge exists because Samuel Chase wanted a stately Maryland mansion.

He would sign the Declaration of Independence at age 35. He would become an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at 54. But at age 28, he planned a house unrivaled in Annapolis. A few years later, by 1771, his riches had dwindled with the walls and foundation unfinished. 


A wealthy plantation owner bought the Maryland Avenue grounds. Edward Lloyd IV saw the house completed in three years. Then came Hester Ann Chase, a descendent of Samuel Chase. In 1846, she bought the mansion for $5,000. She left it to her three nieces. Two died. The third, Hester Ann Chase Ridout, became a minister’s widow. Ridout’s will in 1886 established the house as a women’s refuge. The endowment is rumored to have come from a city block sold off in Baltimore. Today, Ridout’s words hang framed inside:


“Where they may find a retreat from the vicissitudes of life.”


“She wasn’t just saying everybody should enjoy this lovely house,” Kelly said. “She meant retreat from real hardships. She was making a gesture.”  In Victorian society there were few places for lone women to go. During the Great Depression, dozens supposedly bunked in bedrooms and slept in hallways. Today, however, most come by choice. “We’re not suffragettes, you know?” Kelly said. “We’re not here to liberate women. “We just take care of ourselves.” Still, those who run the home are guarded. Caretakers decline offers of publicity. Chase Home has no Facebook page.


But for the sake of the women who live there, the doors are now being opened — just a bit. Smith printed postcards about the home’s history. Each asks for donations to honor women. She travels and leaves the postcards in airport lounges. The home may mail out letters seeking donations. They’re considering a website. “We’ll be very careful to maintain the privacy of the ladies,” Kelly said. This institution, she says, must endure another century. To understand why, consider a rainy evening.


A few musicians gather inside to practice. That old-time Appalachian music begins.


Some downtown neighbors sip red wine and listen.


And there’s Lorraine Thomason. She’s smiling.


The guitar begins.


She rises, slowly.


She leans on a chair. Steady.


A fiddle joins.


Then her arms, swaying.


Then her shoulders, bouncing.


Music is building now. Leaping now. Wild now.


There’s Lorraine. She’s 89 years old. And she’s dancing.


She’s dancing in this old house where she feels young.

City Hall paintings find home in historic Annapolis women's refuge

The historic women’s refuge in downtown Annapolis has new guests: Harriet Tubman, Anne St. Clair Wright and Anne Catharine Green. Painted portraits of these three notable women have been hung at the Chase-Lloyd House on Maryland Avenue. The paintings were displayed in City Hall before the chambers were renovated last summer. Officials decided not to rehang the city-owned portraits, which spent months in storage.

Chase-Lloyd House caretakers sought permission to hang the paintings in their newly named “Hall of Women.” The house proves a likely site considering it has operated more than a century as a home for unattached women and widows. “The paintings represent women who have made significant contributions to society as well as Annapolis,” said Carol Kelly, the house’s manager. The artwork was available for viewing during an open house over the weekend.

The house itself endures as a contribution to women from Hester Ann Chase Ridout, a minister’s widow. She inherited the house and her will in 1886 established it as a women’s refuge. Today, Ridout’s words hang framed inside:


Where they may find a retreat from the vicissitudes of life.


Kelly said the significance of the house makes it a natural fit for the paintings. Tubman was born a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She escaped and spent a decade escorting slaves north to freedom along the Underground Railroad. The Chase-Lloyd house, in fact, is believed to have been home to slave owners. The house’s current guests and caretakers speculate slaves may have lived in its cellar.

Anne St. Clair Wright was a leading founder of Historic Annapolis. She worked to save and restore the city’s historic buildings until her death in 1993.“We weren’t saved by Anne St. Clair Wright. We were saved by Hester Ann Chase Ridout. But she (Wright) is important to us because of her emphasis on the continued preservation of old homes. We want this house to stand forever.” Construction began on the Chase-Lloyd House in the 1760s by Samuel Chase, who would sign the Declaration of Independence. 

The third portrait, of Anne Catharine Green, represents all the working women who lived in the house, Kelly said. Green lived in Annapolis and was the publisher of the Maryland Gazette newspaper beginning 1767, a time when women were expected to be little else than housewives. “Many women who lived at Chase Home have had professional careers,” Kelly said.

A reception was held last week for friends of the home, local historians, the eight women who live there, and artistAletha Kuschan, of Prince George’s County. She painted the portraits about eight years ago. She said she’s pleased to learn her paintings support the mission and history of the Chase Lloyd House. It all proved a bit surprising to her.

She usually paints koi fish.



Historic Annapolis mansion considers eco-friendly upgrades

Chase Home hopes to become local example for energy and money-saving retrofits...


February 21, 2013|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun


Faced with the challenge of keeping a historic mansion warm for elderly residents while reining in costs, the nonprofit organization that operates the 18th-century Chase-Lloyd House in Annapolis is turning to 21st-century techniques to save the day. Chase Home Inc., an organization that runs the historic building as both housing for elderly women and a tourist attraction, recently contracted for an energy audit to determine if technology can help offset some of the high costs of operation.

We want to see if there's a way that we can reduce our footprint and our expenses, and be better stewards of the environment and not hurt the fabric of our building," said Molly Smith, vice president of the house's board of trustees and the chief executive officer. The long-term goal, she said, would be for the Chase-Lloyd House to become a local example of how Colonial-era buildings can be retrofitted with efficient technologies that don't wreck the historic nature of the structures. Annapolis has a well-known historic district, and the city and Anne Arundel County boast dozens of historic buildings. The Chase-Lloyd House is on the National Register of Historic Places.


The recommendations are expected to include a mix of geothermal heating and air conditioning, insulation and maybe specialized pop-in storm windows. The existing gas-fired boilers are expected to become less of a factor. "You have elderly ladies there, and you want them to be comfortable," said Tom Boyer, owner of Infrared Tools Energy Services in Crofton, who is working on the audit.

Depending on the options chosen, costs could range from $60,000 to more than double that, before rebates and other incentives, he said. Operating expenses, however, would drop sharply. Smith said energy costs average a few thousand dollars a month. The organization operates on an endowment. Although it accepts donations, it has not been actively raising funds.

"It would be nice if we had a windfall in the stock market. Or maybe a fairy godmother will appear," Smith said. The 11,200-square-foot Georgian-style house, which Smith describes as a living landmark, features a main floor that's open in warm weather for the public to view the elaborate ceiling and moldings, the grand hall and Palladian windows, and the carved marble mantels. The upper floors are private. Women who can live independently pay what they can afford for the rooms on the second and third floors, where each of the eight bedrooms has a bathroom and spectacular view of Annapolis. Rent, which includes meals, doesn't cover operating expenses, Smith said, and the energy audit is an initial step toward trimming the bills. Any changes to the property must meet strict historic regulations.


The Chase-Lloyd House has a storied past, according to its operators. Construction of the private home began in 1769 when the site was owned by Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Cash-strapped, he sold the unfinished building in 1771 to Edward Lloyd IV, who owned an Eastern Shore tobacco plantation and whose son became a Maryland governor.

High winds damage historic mansion

Posted Feb 26, 2011


The historic Chase-Lloyd House on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis was evacuated late yesterday when high winds tore part of the roof from the rest of the building, city officials said. City spokesman Phill McGowan said police responded to a call at 3:30 p.m., and an officer went into the attic of the of the house, located at 22 Maryland Ave. 


"One corner of the roof would lift up in heavy wind gusts, and then settle back down," McGowan said. City inspectors ordered the evacuation of six elderly residents who live in the house. Parts of the metal roof continued to peel off last night, McGowan said. The city planned to keep the street closed all night, to prevent passersby from being hit. "Debris is literally flying off right now, and obviously they are concerned about the roof coming down," McGowan said.


The house serves as a retirement home for elderly women. Construction started on the house in 1769 but its owner, Samuel Chase, later a signer of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Supreme Court justice, ran out of money. He sold it to Eastern Shore planter Edward Lloyd IV, who owned thousands of acres of land and hundreds of slaves. Lloyd was so wealthy, he was known as "Edward the Magnificent."


The home's last private owner, Hester Ann Chase Ridout, who died in 1888, created a trust so the house would be used as a retirement residence for senior women. The ancestral home was to serve as "a retreat from the vicissitudes of life," the will stated. McGowan said city inspectors and the Chase-Lloyd House's insurer would examine the 18th century mansion today.


High winds bedeviled authorities across the region.

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