My Father and William Paca Signer of the Declaration of Independence
My father was a stone mason for 50 years. He attended bricklaying trade school after getting out of the Navy where he served as a Seabee. He worked throughout Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington DC specializing in historic renovation. He worked on the historic renovations of the Shiplap House, Saint Mary’s Church, the Maryland Inn and the Paca Gardens in Annapolis.
The Shiplap House was the oldest house in Annapolis, built in 1715. I was fortunate to work with my dad on the Shiplap House. I got to watch him take this old decrepit building and bring it back to its original design. The house had been both a store and a warehouse. I remember it was a dirty job with two hundred years’ worth of dust, dirt, and grit. It was so dusty that dad would spray the air with water to clear the air.
In 1976, my father worked tirelessly renovating all of the brick walkways and structures at the William Paca Gardens. The Paca House and Gardens National Historic Landmark brickwork was restored by my father to its colonial-era splendor. William Paca was one of the four Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence. William Paca and my father were both born, one of seven children.
Dad told me the story of how he would work renovating the brick walls bordering the garden. He would take down the wall brick by brick and relay them. Each day an old man would come and watch my father work. The old man never spoke, said hello, or gave any greeting. He would just watch my Dad remove the old brick and relay the brick with new mortar mixed with crushed oyster shells to mimic the look of the historic mortar.
Dad used to love telling the story of how he had to take down a section of wall and a gold coin popped out of the wall. The old man, who never said a word and rarely moved except to watch my father work sprung to life and snatched the coin. The old man took off running like a lottery ticket winner. My dad never saw the old man again and never got to see how old the coin was. Dad frequently had observers, people who were fascinated at his demonstration of stone masonry. There was something rhythmic in the way dad could take a trowel full of concrete and always scoop the same size piece to properly coat the bottom of a brick before laying it in the next course or row of bricks.
Another story dad liked to tell was how the Maryland Historical Society historians used a 1772 portrait of William Paca to renovate the gardens. In the background of the life size portrait was the original garden. This was important as the garden was razed for a parking lot in the 1960’s when Paca’s houses was used as a hotel, so restoring the gardens to their original design took some detective work utilizing Charles Willson Peale’s 7 foot tall painting.
In 1982, my dad and I worked a brick sidewalk job together near St. Michael’s for a former classmate of my older sister’s, John. John was wealthy, arrogant and condescending. He was building a huge house on the Eastern Shore. We were putting in a serpentine brick sidewalk in front of the house. There was another contractor putting in hardwood floors inside the house. The hardwood floor guy was an older fellow who was an overly talkative guy. He about talked our ears off, but my dad always listened politely. The owner showed up while we were eating lunch together and fired the hardwood floor guy on the spot for not working quickly enough. He didn’t take the guy outside or give the man any courtesy whatsoever. I was aghast at the man’s firing. The hardwood floor man was nice to me and made it a point to learn my name. I was impressed a guy in his late sixties was still working doing such backbreaking work.
The hardwood floor man cried quietly, gathered his belongings, and said goodbye. My dad and I did not speak about it until the long ride home along route fifty across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Dad could see I was angry and needed to talk about it. Dad told me of the injustice and how it should not have happened, but we had a job to finish. The hardwood floor man died several weeks later from cancer. We suspected he knew he was dying, but he wanted to go out working as he had no family. The whole incident made me sad.
Later, the owner caused my dad grief by saying he did not like the sidewalk. I never heard any client tell my dad they did not like his work. The owner wanted my father to pull out the serpentine sidewalk out and replace it with a straight sidewalk. My mother got involved and told my Father not to do it. My father told me his work quality had been questioned so we would correct it. He told me it was a question of honor and standing by your work. My dad and I pulled the sidewalk out brick by brick. I helped recycle the bricks by chipping the mortar off, so he could reuse them. Dad did the work out of his own pocket at a loss, but he told the owner that he would never work for him again. The owner called my dad several times over the years after that and my father refused to do any work for him.