By Elizabeth Hughes, Director and State Historic Preservation Officer
On November 8th, Marylanders will cast votes in public places ranging from schools, community centers, and libraries to churches, fire houses, and office buildings. In years past, private homes, stores, and purpose-built polling houses also helped meet this need. Today, the handful of polling houses that survive speak volumes about how local communities have long valued their right and duty to vote on Election Day.
On the Eastern Shore, the Nutter’s District Election House was built in 1938 as a simple one-room frame structure. Relocated in 1976 by the Wicomico County Historical Society to its current site in Fruitland, it now serves as a museum that houses the Society’s collection of presidential and inauguration memorabilia and political campaign items. In nearby Somerset County, Princess Anne’s Election House was moved to its current location in Manokin River Park in the 1980s. One of the state’s most decorative examples, this one-room structure boasts eave brackets, corner pilasters and (originally) a lath and plaster interior. It has the added distinction of serving its original purpose, as votes are cast here every two years for the Princess Anne town elections.
In the western part of the state, the unincorporated community of Sang Run in Garrett County is the site of the Sang Run Election House. Reputedly built in 1872, the one-room, board and batten sided structure served the voters of this once thriving lumber town.
Calvert County has, remarkably, retained four of its historic polling houses – the Sunderland Polling House (relocated to the White Hall property), the Old St. Leonard Polling House, the Sunderland Polling House in Huntingtown, and the St. Leonard Polling House. Utilitarian in nature, these one-room structures served the county from the late 19th through the mid-20th century. Most had two doors so that voters could move easily in one door, cast their vote, and exit out the other.
Calvert County Historic Preservation Planner Kirsti Uunila notes that these structures have an important story to tell as the center of civic life. “These polling houses weren’t segregated – Calvert County’s black and white residents cast their votes together here. Following school integration in the 1960s, the polling houses were abandoned and voting often took place in schools.” Oral histories document that these sites served as important centers of social as well as political activity, with oysters, crabcakes, and fried chicken being sold to hungry voters here on election day.
Although the way in which we cast our vote may have changed, our responsibility has not. As you make your way to the polls this Election Day, remember the story of these humble landmarks….and then go get a crabcake!