The circa 1855 drawing from the State House dome by the E. Sachse Co. is a fascinating portrait of Annapolis. Near the center of the drawing is East Street. To the right of East Street is a densely packed assembly of small buildings crammed toward the bustling activity of the harbor. To the left of East Street the scene is quite different. Large homes are surrounded by gardens with massive yards fenced and gated. The Paca House (1763-65) and the James Brice House (1767-73) are identifiable by their towering chimneys. They share one large city block exclusively with the Hammond Harwood House (1774). The Judge John Brice House (1739) and the John Brice III House (1766-75) control a large swath of the block defined by East Street, Prince George Street (which they front), Maryland Avenue and State Circle. The Chase Lloyd House (1769-74) and Ogle Hall (1739-42) own the entire city block north of the Hammond Harwood House. In the upper left hand corner of the drawing is McDowell Hall (1744-46) of St. John's College, originally conceived as the colonial governor's house.
The Bordley-Randall House built in 1760 dominates the left quarter of the drawing and is the most fully depicted of all the buildings. It sits in the center of its own city block defined by State Circle, Maryland Avenue, Prince George Street, College Avenue and North Street. This position allows for private gardens to completely surround the house. Most other 18th century mansions in the city have gardens only in the rear of the house. Furthermore, it is the only mansion positioned on direct axis with the State House. These features made it the most commanding, monumental and socially prominent house in the City.
Thomas Bordley (1683-1726) immigrated to Maryland from a well established family in England at 11 years old. He became a lawyer, landowner and politician. At his death he owned 7500 acres, an extraordinary library of 100 law books, and an entire city block in Annapolis. His eldest son Stephen Bordley (1710-1764), was educated in London, one of the most prominent lawyers in Maryland and taught the law to Samuel Chase and William Paca in Annapolis. In 1759 Stephen sold 1340 acres in Anne Arundel County and built what is now known as the Borley-Randall House in 1760. The house was conceived and used as Bordley's social show place. He entertained with lavish food and drink, cementing business and political connections.
The house built by Stephen Bordley is the first five-part plan house in Annapolis. A five-part plan house has a large center section with two smaller building parts attached on both sides. All five parts are joined together in a line, the larger center section has the front entrance door, the two far end "wings" are smaller in size, and the two connecting "hyphens" are the smallest parts. The diminutive side pieces emphasize the importance of the domineering center section. Symmetry is used to monumentalize the front door and place the owner's quarters in a commanding status. This floor plan concept was made famous by Andrea Palladio in 16th century Italy, and became a staple of 18th century English Georgian country house architecture. However, the five-part plan concept is an architectural contrivance. There is little functional reason for the concept. The owners may have found uses for all the parts of the house, but functional needs did not drive the design. This house design has been used for centuries because it is one of the best architectural expressions for personal wealth, power and prestige.
The Paca House, James Brice House, and the Hammond-Harwood House are the only other five part plan house in Annapolis. They were built in the short period of time of 1763 to 1775 by families that were all related by marriage.
The Sachse drawing was made several years before the start of the Civil War. Within 11 years after the Civil War, the open spaces around all of the great mansions would begin the rapid transformation into a densely built town. Today the Bordley-Randall House is largely obscured from all streets. Surrounded by houses and commercial buildings, only a glimpse of the house can be seen through its closed iron gate on State Circle. Its five-part plan imagery is also obscured by a 19th century addition.
A very important advancement in architecture was taken by later owners of the Bordley-Randall House. In 1878 Alexander Randall built a duplex home in front of his five-part plan home. This house at 86-88 State Circle is intellectually progressive and artistically modern. Read our Annapolis Architecture Guide article about the Randall Duplex to learn more about this later home.
Glimpses of the Bordley-Randall