The Chase-Lloyd House is the pinnacle of Colonial architecture in Annapolis, the three-story Georgian home perfecting the design ideals visible across the city’s better-known masterpieces.

And despite its origin as a symbol of political power in Maryland’s state capital, the house has always been something unique — a woman’s home.

An enslaved housekeeper used it to gain freedom for her family. Maryland’s richest woman bought it to raise her three orphaned nieces, and the last survivor of those sisters dedicated it as a refuge for women with no place else to go.

Generations of women with nowhere to go have called it home.

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Now, Chase-Lloyd is on the cusp of almost certain change. Four years after structural problems forced the final six women residents out, the nonprofit that runs it will no longer use the house as a shelter for elderly women.

“While we are no longer operating as an independent living facility for women, today, we utilize the house to support our mission,” said Heather East, executive director of Chase Home Inc.

Although neither East nor Stephen Esmacher, president of the nonprofit board of trustees, would say exactly what comes next, it almost certainly involves turning control of Chase-Lloyd over to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. An announcement is likely later this year.

“The diocese, along with the trustees of Chase Home Inc., continues to work diligently to secure plans for the house as well as ensuring that the mission of Chase Home continues its good work and is strengthened,” the Rev. Christine McCloud, a church canon who oversees racial reconciliation, youth camps and policy, wrote in an email.

“It is premature to discuss any future plans at this time and we look forward to making a proper announcement when we have completed our work together,” McCloud added.

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Premature, perhaps, but the last family owner’s final wish makes the outcome clear.

Hester Chase Ridout willed her home at 22 Maryland Ave. in 1886 to the trust that became Chase Home on the condition that it be used as a boarding home for women with nowhere else to go. When the house opened in 1890, that meant widows of Civil War veterans and Navy sailors.

If that role ends, Ridout’s will compels the nonprofit to turn the house ― with a property tax value estimated at $2 million — over to the diocese.

Working diligently translates to answering tough questions. How do the nonprofit and the church honor the binding intent of Ridout and more than a century of work when the home is no longer suited to that role?

And how does the Episcopal Church of Maryland, the nonprofit or any future owner invest millions needed to upgrade this National Historic Landmark so it can give the American public an understanding of its historical significance?

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“One, the board is 100% behind wanting the place to be properly restored,” East said. “And two, they are committed to it being open to the public. Why? Because Samuel Chase was one of the Founding Fathers.”

Chase was a striving young lawyer when he started work on the house in 1769. It was the golden era of building in Annapolis, a time when Ogle Hall, the William Paca House, the James Brice House, the Hammond Harwood House and others were built around Maryland’s Colonial capital.

Five years before he signed the Declaration in 1776, though, Chase ran out of money and sold his dream to Edward Lloyd IV.

Lloyd had what Chase wanted — wealth and power. He owned Wye Plantation near Easton, where abolitionist Frederick Douglass later spent his childhood in bondage. Lloyd finished the house in 1774 as a status symbol for Maryland’s 90-day General Assembly sessions.

The Revolution ended Annapolis’ status as a center of architectural and decorative arts, but it remained a seat of political power. Edward Lloyd V, Lloyd’s son, was the 13th governor. He was also a violent despot, renowned for brutalizing the people he had enslaved.

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Out of this came Sall Wilks, an enslaved housekeeper for the elder Lloyd and, according to historian Janice Hayes-Williams, the mother of six of his children. Lloyd V sent her to Annapolis as the housekeeper of his grand home — building the brick kitchen annex where she and other enslaved people lived at a time when most ived in attics and basements.

Wilks arranged for several of her children to be freed, including a daughter married to a founder of the oldest Black congregation in Annapolis, Asbury United Methodist Church. Although there’s no record that she was formally set free, U.S. Census records indicate she spent her final years living with her daughter and son-in-law in a house on Main Street.

The former governor sold the house when his attention shifted to Washington. Eventually, Hester Ann Chase bought it in 1847. A niece of Samuel Chase, she was among Maryland’s wealthiest women and bought the home to raise her brother’s orphaned daughters, Matilda, Frances and Hester Chase.

When Hester Ann Chase died in 1875, the house went to her only surviving neice, Hester Ann Chase Ridout. It was her will more than a decade later that created the Chase Home Inc., and the boarding home for homeless women.

Over the decades, Chase Home sold off the land that once surrounded the house to pay for its mission. Today, all that remains are the house, the slave quarters next door and a walled garden.

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“The dining room at the Chase Lloyd House may have been the first dining room built during the Golden Period to be used as the most important social room,” Bohl Architecture writes in its guide to the city’s most significant buildings.

The funds raised from those sales, carefully invested and combined with death benefits of its widowed residents, covered the cost of the home for years. The nonprofit’s assets total $7 million today, according to its most recent tax records available online.

Heather East, executive director of the nonprofit Chase Home Foundation, and David Michaels, director of women's programming and preservation, inside the historic Chase-Lloyd Home. Five years after the last women were moved out of the shelter, there are no plans to continue its historic role as a home of last resort.
Heather East, executive director of the nonprofit Chase Home Foundation, and David Michaels, director of women’s programming and preservation, inside the historic Chase-Lloyd Home. Five years after the last women were moved out of the shelter, there are no plans to continue its historic role as a home of last resort. (Rick Hutzell)

When East arrived in 2019, she launched a structural survey that discovered a portico added in 1901 was sinking. If it fell, it would likely take the house with it. That’s when the nonprofit decided to move out the remaining six women.

Today, the portico has been shored up with wooden braces, but restoring the house to its role as a safe haven for homeless women is out of reach, East said.

“There’s a lot of preservation and repair work to be done,” East said. “Even with the modern amenities that were placed in the house, like the plumbing system, it really, has bad implications.

“We can’t be an assisted living center.”

Instead, Chase Home has changed focus to using its endowment to help women find shelter elsewhere, develop programs with nonprofit partners and, someday, build affordable housing. It has issued grants to other nonprofits working on eviction-prevention programs, and co-sponsored a symposium last year on affordable housing with Anne Arundel County.

Keeping that going will take work and more money. The puzzle is figuring out how, while also reopening the house as a reminder of American history.

“The obvious choice would be the sale of the home, but there are limitations on what we can do,” East said. “And there’s a contingency plan. It goes back to the diocese.”

Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and where we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom.

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