Architectural Survey on Smith Island

by Allison Luthern, Architectural Survey Administrator

Historical architectural survey describes the process of locating, identifying, and recording historic places. It is the important initial step of all historic preservation activities – we need to start by understanding what exists where. The Maryland Historical Trust has supported architectural survey since our founding in the 1960s. The results of our architectural surveys are contained within the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP).

MHT’s Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program recently funded survey work by architectural historian Paul Touart in Somerset County, including properties on Smith Island. Smith Island is the last surviving inhabited island off the shores of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. Early in its history, the island was occupied by the Pocomoke and Assateague peoples, Native American tribes who also lived along the Eastern Shore streams. The first English landowner was Henry Smith (the island’s namesake) in the middle of the 17th century. Anglo-Americans continued to inhabit Smith Island through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.  

Smith’s Island, Lake, Griffing & Stevenson Map, 1877.

The recent survey project documented one of the oldest surviving buildings on Smith Island, known as Black Walnut Point. Its inventory number in the MIHP is S-536-6. The architectural survey provides a physical description of the house: It has a two-story, three-bay side hall/parlor plan main block supported on a stuccoed masonry foundation with an exterior sheathed in beaded weatherboards. The gable roof is covered with wood shingles. Attached to the back of the main block is a two-story, two-part service wing that dates from the third quarter of the 19th century, around 1860-70.

Black Walnut Point, photo by Paul B. Touart

The survey also details the property’s history through its ownership by two prominent Smith Island families, the Tylers and Marshalls. Today, it is the Smith Island Education Center.

Black Walnut Point, photo by Paul B. Touart

Beginning in the second half of the 19th century through the early 20th century, the Lower Shore region experienced growth and economic prosperity associated with new railway lines, agriculture, and the seafood industry – the latter being particularly important for Smith Island. During this time period, each of the three Smith Island communities (Tylerton, Ewell, and Rhodes Point) built a new Methodist church building. These three churches were also surveyed in our recent project.

Ewell United Methodist Church (S-536-1) is a single-story, gable front building on a raised, rusticated block foundation. It has a symmetrical façade and is topped by a square belfry. It was built in 1939-40 on a site that has long been associated with the practice of Methodism. Adjacent to the church is a parsonage, a tabernacle, and a cemetery.

Ewell United Methodist Church, photo by Paul B. Touart

Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church (S-536-4) is located in the center of Rhodes Point. It is a single-story, L-shaped building with a marble date stone that reads: “1921 / Calvary M.E. Church / Reverend J.L. Derrickson.” It is also surrounded by a large cemetery with both in-ground and above ground vaulted burial plots.

Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church, photo by Paul B. Touart

The third church, Union Methodist Episcopal Church (S-536-8), is in Tylerton. It was built around 1920-1930, using salvaged materials from an earlier 1896 church. It is a rectangular shaped church on a raised, rusticated block foundation with a large columned projecting pavilion flanked by towers. Like many historic Methodist churches, the sanctuary inside is on the upper level.

Union Methodist Episcopal Church, photo by Paul B. Touart

If you want to learn more, you can view all MIHP survey records, including more properties on Smith Island, on our website, https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/.

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