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JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. -- The Fourth of July is recognized internationally as American Independence Day. But, that is the date that the American colonies declared independence; it took another seven and a half years to actually gain independence from Great Britain. It was not until The Continental Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris on Jan. 14, 1784, that America officially became a sovereign nation.

Annapolis, Md. is well known as the Sailing Capital of the United States; but during this time in our nation's history, the Maryland State House in Annapolis was actually the Capitol. The Treaty of Paris was ratified in Annapolis, thus making it the first peace-time capital of the United States.

Annapolis still retains much of its colonial charm, making it an ideal destination to learn about colonial life and our beginnings as a nation. The city was designed on a grand baroque street plan like the capitals of Europe, and retains many of its original colonial buildings. In fact, the historic district boasts more surviving colonial buildings than any other city in America.

Visit the Nation’s first peace-time Capitol

The Maryland State House is the oldest state capitol still in continuous legislative use, and acquired national significance when it served as the Capitol of the United States from November 1783 - August 1784. The Continental Congress met in the Old Senate Chamber, which is still open to the public. It is currently being renovated to its original eighteenth century appearance, and you can follow the progress at marylandstateho use.blogspot.com. The State House is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., except for Christmas and New Years Day. Visit www.msa.md.go v/msa/mdstatehouse/html/home.html for more information.

Stroll the streets with a colonial Annapolitan

During colonial times, Annapolis was known as the "Athens of America." It was an important shipping port, which brought wealth, hospitality and cultural activities. Take a tour with a colonial-clad guide and hear stories of the Continental Congress, Washington's resignation as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, the signing of the Treaty of Paris, and quips about everyday colonial life. Both Capital City Colonials (www.capitalcitycolonials.com) and Watermark Tours (www.watermarkcruises.com) conduct tours; check out their websites for times and prices.

Visit the colonial homes of signers of the Declaration of Independence

Four signatories to the Declaration of Independence lived in Annapolis. All four of their colonial homes are still standing in Annapolis, three of which are open to the public.

Charles Carroll House: Maryland was originally a proprietary colony of the English Lord Baltimore, who wished to create a refuge for English Catholics in the New World. Charles Carroll is the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. His home is on the grounds of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, on Duke of Gloucester St., and is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from noon - 4 p.m. Check out www.charlescarrollho use.org for more information.

Chase-Lloyd House: Although Samuel Chase sold it before residing in it, the edifice is still of great historic significance as one of the first three-story Georgian townhouses built in the colonies. The home was reacquired by Chase's descendents in 1847; and in 1888, the family bequeathed it to the Protestant Episcopal Church, to be used as an elderly women's home. It is still used in this capacity today. As a result, only the first floor and gardens are available for viewing. Hours are limited to Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday afternoons. Call ahead to 410-263- 2723 to ensure a docent is available. The house is located at 22 Maryland Ave., and the price of admission is $4.

William Paca House and Garden: This eighteenth century Georgian mansion was designed primarily by William Paca himself. In the early twentieth century it was used as a hotel, and the pre-revolutionary pleasure garden had been paved over to make a Greyhound Bus station. The Historic Annapolis Foundation acquired the property in the mid 1960s, and conducted extensive archeological and botanical studies to restore the property to its original colonial grandeur. It is nationally recognized as one of the best examples of an urban colonial pleasure garden in America. The house is open to the public Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Sunday noon - 5 p.m. Call 410-990-4543 for details. The price of admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Peggy Stuart House: Thomas Stone purchased this Georgian residence in 1783 and occupied the house until his death in 1787. It was occupied by Anthony Stewart from 1772-1779, and was named after Stewart's ship the Peggy Stewart. In October 1774, the ship was burned with its cargo of tea in Annapolis harbor by revolutionaries, and the event is known as the "Annapolis Tea Party." The house is not open to the public, but is located at 207 Hanover St.

Eat and Drink like the Founding Fathers

After meandering through the historic brick-paved streets, stop and have a dinner or a drink at one of Annapolis' colonial watering holes. Middleton Tavern, located across from the city dock, was frequented by members of the Continental Congress, and also hosted George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. For more information visit www.middletontavern.com. Additionally, you could grab a drink at the Drummer's Lot Pub, inside the historic Maryland Inn, at the top of Main St, on Church Circle. The pub is named after the parcel of land that the hotel occupies. In the 1750s, drummer William Butterfield conveyed town news from this central location, through a complex series of drum beats. The hotel website touts that Benjamin Franklin and John Adams enjoyed a pint or two in the historic pub. Check out www.historicinnsofannapolis.com for more information.

If you are looking for an Independence Day destination steeped in colonial history and character, Annapolis is approximately a 45-minute drive east from JBAB. You can round out a perfect Fourth of July in Annapolis by watching the fireworks, which are launched from a barge in the harbor starting at 9:15 p.m. Active Duty military and dependents can view the show from the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, but anywhere along the Annapolis waterfront will give you a front row seat. Go to www.anapolis.gov, or www.visitanapolis.org for more details.