A Captain or Widow’s Walk
Standing across from the Brooksby-Shaw House while a bit chilled by the Autumn morning air I sipped my coffee and considered how 295 years ago Mr. Cornelius Brooksby, an Annapolis butcher by trade, began construction on this same building. Actually I found myself focusing more so on the architectural detail of the Widow’s, or Captain’s, Walk that runs the length of its cedar shake and metal sided Gambrel roof.
What with this original Georgian style house having been built between 1720 and 1725, at least the right most portion of it, I envisioned how its 18th century occupants stood on the upper walkway gazing out towards harbor watching for their family member’s ship to arrive in port. Yes I’m sure that the view afforded one from here near the top of State Circle provided for sweeping views of the waters to the east back when the tall masts of sea going ships were anchored about the harbor in the bustling 18th century port of Annapolis.
As to the known history of the Brooksby-Shaw House and this particular architectural element well Mr. Brooksby began building his house in 1720 and it was not completed until 1725 , as an aside Mr. Brooksby died in 1723. Being a butcher certainly a Captain’s Walk would not have been a necessity unless Mr. Brooksby wanted to be aware of any ships arriving in port with livestock requiring his skills. In any event after Mr. Brooksby’s death both the house, extending only across the front from the door to the two right most windows at the time, was inherited by his son and daughter, who sold it to a Mr. Sewell Long, a sailor and shipwright, by the mid 1700’s.
Surprisingly it was not Mr. Long who would come to add the roofline walkway to the house either regardless of his maritime trades background. For by the 1780’s Mr. Long sold the house to Mr. John Shaw, a well known City cabinet maker who would go on to furnish as well as maintain the Maryland State House. Mr. Shaw is also not responsible for the addition of the Captain’s Walk although he certainly should be credited for extending the building’s width to the far left side as seen across the entire front porch today. Mr. Shaw died in the late 1820’s upon which his house and business were passed on to his family. His son George Shaw would continue to operate the cabinetry business however it was only two months later that he passed away as well.
So as best that can be determined from the house’s chronological architectural surveys it was during the period when John Shaw’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Thomas Franklin owned the house that the Captain’s or Widow’s walk was built. The reason for doing so remains unclear.
When it comes to Annapolis historical architecture things are not always what they appear to be at first although it is nice envisioning them as one would have expected them to have been.
Have a good afternoon,
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