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/.

“Little Las Vegas” in Charles County 

By Nicole A. Diehlmann 

Enjoy the following guest blog by Nicole A. Diehlmann, co-author of the new MHT Press publication on the architectural history of Charles County, In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes

Since 1920, major changes in Charles County’s economy, demographics, and physical development shifted it from a primarily agricultural economy to a bedroom community of Washington, D.C.  The legalization of gambling was one little-known feature of this shift.

The construction of Crain Highway (US 301) in the 1920s and the Potomac River Bridge in 1940 opened a major north–south transportation corridor, which linked Charles County to the larger urban centers of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and points south. The new road brought an increase in automobile traffic and tourism, and restaurants and hotels began to spring up along the US 301 corridor. After the end of Prohibition in 1933, small taverns opened, which became popular places to have a drink or two and play slot machines. At that time, slot machines were widely regarded as innocent amusement, even though gambling was outlawed by the State of Maryland. 

In the early 1940s, many county residents questioned the legality of slot machines, and the status of gambling became a contentious community issue. A grand jury was charged with studying the presence of illegal slot machines throughout the county. The grand jury’s report stated that there was no evidence indicating that any slot machines were in operation in Charles County, but in reality, establishment owners had successfully hidden or removed them prior to inspections. Subsequent reports concluded that the problem lay in a lack of law enforcement and argued that since gambling was so pervasive, it might as well be legalized so that the county could collect money from licensing fees. A bill was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly in 1949 for legalization as a “local option” that would affect only Charles County. The bill outlined several benefits of legalization, including how revenue generated would be used to reduce real estate taxes, pay off school bonds, and provide support for the library fund, the fire department, and the hospital. On the momentous day of June 21, 1949, gambling was legalized in Charles County by a vote of nearly 2 to 1. 

The Waldorf Motel and Restaurant featured flashy neon signs intended to attract visitors to this popular site along the US 301 strip. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government.

People from surrounding areas had been coming to the county for years to play the slots, but legalization spurred an extraordinary number of tourists to visit and thus, growth in all sectors in order to support the influx. The combination of legalized gambling, transportation improvements, and postwar mobility combined to dramatically increase the volume of traffic passing through the area and transformed Waldorf, the northernmost county town on US 301, into a tourist destination. Crain Highway was widened to four lanes to accommodate the traffic. Between 1949 and 1968, along a fourteen-mile stretch of US 301, 21 hotels with a total of 600 rooms popped up alongside restaurants, gas stations, and entertainment facilities that accommodated tourists and gamblers. This concentration of restaurants and hotels, each with its own array of slot machines, turned the once sleepy village of Waldorf into a large center of commercial activity. The largest sites for gambling in Waldorf in the late 1950s were Club Waldorf Inc. with 140 slot machines and the Waldorf Restaurant with 60 machines. Other casinos were clustered along the Potomac River, including the Reno, off the shores of Colonial Beach, Virginia, with more than 300 machines, and Marshall Hall, across from Mount Vernon, with 193 machines. At the height of the gambling era, revenue from slot machine licensing fees provided a full quarter of the county’s income.  

Although located off the shore of Colonial Beach, Virginia, the Reno Casino was considered to be within the jurisdiction of Charles County, Maryland, because it was in the Potomac River, which is wholly in the state of Maryland. In this way, Virginians were given easy access to Maryland’s slot machines. Photo source: In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes

The slot machine era in Charles County was a time of extravagance, excitement, and growth. The slots were everywhere, and everyone—adults, children, residents, and tourists—played them. At first buildings intended for other commercial uses were adapted to accommodate slot machines, but eventually special structures were built as gambling and entertainment houses. The demand for construction continued to increase, so that by 1960 there were 57 restaurants along the highway, with the larger ones billing themselves as casinos. The neon lights on restaurants and hotels made the US 301 strip look like “Little Las Vegas,” as it came to be known. Many of the restaurants offered dancing and live bands, often attracting famous performers. 

The Wigwam, demolished in 2013, was one of the most notable of the casinos that lined US 301. In the later twentieth century, the building housed Walls Bakery. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

In Charles County, most of the motels were constructed as fully integrated buildings under a single roof. The dominant styles were vernacular interpretations of Colonial Revival and Modernist styles, although Craftsman, Western, and Spanish Colonial Revival styles were present in motels in other jurisdictions. While they were often architecturally non-descript, motels and restaurants distinguished themselves by their roadside signage. Large neon signs dominated the grounds visually, enticing passing motorists to stop at the establishment. The Waldorf Motel, demolished in 2017, was an excellent example of the type, containing several rows of motel rooms, a large neon sign, and a two-story restaurant topped by a neon sign. One of the most notable of the casinos was the 1950 Wigwam. It included a casino building with an attached teepee, a decorative wooden totem pole, and a large Western-themed neon sign. After demolition in 2013, the neon sign was acquired by Charles County and now marks the entrance to the Indian Head Rail Trail on US 301 in White Plains. The extant Blue Jay Motel served African Americans who came to US 301 during the era of segregation. It was constructed by Arthur Farrar and featured in the Negro Traveler’s Green Book between 1959 and 1964.  

The Blue Jay Motel, constructed by Arthur Farrar, served African Americans who came to US 301 during the era of segregation. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the pervasiveness of slot machines began to worry many residents. A 1958 issue of Man’s Conquest magazine called Crain Highway the “301 sin-strip,” Charles County “dirty, drunken and debauched,” and accused residents of profiting from “slots, sex and sin.” Another magazine, Real Adventure, described the county as a “modern Sodom with thirty gin mills to the mile and a populace of gun-carrying gangsters and sleazy dames.” By 1961, Maryland had three times as many slots as the state of Nevada and they produced an average annual revenue of $13 million. Reformers in Charles County pushed their case to end gambling, and just as legalization had been a community-wide fight, so was its demise. Due to continuing pressure from many groups, in 1962 Governor J. Millard Tawes announced the establishment of a committee charged with creating procedures to remove slots from the county with the least possible harm. Beginning in July 1965, the slots were phased out slowly over a three-year period. On June 30, 1968, store and restaurant owners watched as the last of the machines were removed from their establishments, and the slot-machine era in Charles County came to an end. 

The White House Hotel is one of the few slot-machine era motels remaining in the county. Image source: National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey.  

After slot machines were banned, the area’s popularity as a travel destination quickly declined. The construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1954 offered Washingtonians ready access to Maryland’s oceanside resorts, which caused the decline of riverside resorts and further drained the tourism trade from Southern Maryland. Today, few vestiges of Charles County’s slot-machine era survive. Most of the larger hotels and restaurants along US 301 have been demolished for new commercial developments that serve the rising number of suburban residents living in the county. A few motels exist at the southern end of US 301 in the county, including the former White House Motel and the Bel Alton Hotel. 

Learn more about Charles County’s “Little Las Vegas” in the book In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes, written by Cathy H. Thompson and Nicole A. Dielhmann. You can purchase a copy from the Historical Society of Charles County or from MHT press at https://mht.maryland.gov/home_mhtpress.shtml

New Book Release! In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes (Guest Blog)

by Cathy H. Thompson

A new publication on the architectural history of Charles County, Maryland is now available from the MHT Press. Consisting of almost 500 pages, In the Midst of These Plains documents nearly four centuries of settlement in Charles County, describing in detail its shift from a rural agricultural community to an exurb of Washington, DC.  The result of many years of historic research and survey funded by the Maryland Historical Trust, the book highlights the history of the county through its historic buildings and landscapes. From iconic tobacco barns and substantial dwellings to the buildings of everyday life, the authors paint a picture of Charles County’s built environment. Rich in detail and illustrations, the book includes a wealth of historic and modern photographs, maps, and floor plans.  

The tobacco barn at the Exchange (CH-357) is believed to have been built about 1780 and employs traditional building features of the era, including vertical riven roof sheathing and tilted false plates. The sheds are later additions. Image source: National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey. 

Nestled in the southwestern corner of Southern Maryland, Charles County remained rural and remote for much of its history. First inhabited by various indigenous groups, English settlers arrived in the early seventeenth century. Many were Catholics seeking religious freedom, while others were of various Protestant faiths. Jesuit priests established a commanding mission at St. Thomas Manor in 1741 and continued to be major landowners. 

Erected in 1741, St. Thomas Manor (CH-6) stands on a high bluff at the confluence of the Port Tobacco and Potomac Rivers. It remains one of the County’s most sophisticated examples of 18th century Georgian architecture. Drawn by J. Richard Rivoire. 

By the eighteenth century, the wealthiest settlers had established a level of stability that allowed for the construction of substantial brick and frame dwellings in a distinct regional vernacular style, while the majority of residents, both black and white, lived in rudimentary log and frame houses. In the early nineteenth century, a distinct planter class had evolved, fueled by tobacco profits and enslaved labor. The Civil War brought a period of economic and social instability, but the arrival of the Popes Creek Branch of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad and establishment of the Naval Proving Ground in Indian Head at the end of the century brought a new wave of prosperity and led to the development of distinct town centers, including the future county seat of La Plata.  

Constructed in 1873, the LaPlata Train Station is the last remaining station in Charles County. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

Many residents continued farming tobacco as well as crops such as wheat and corn, while others exploited the riches of the region’s abundant waterways through fishing, oystering, crabbing, and even trapping fur that was sent to Baltimore’s lucrative garment market. Construction of Crain Highway in the 1920s provided a convenient link to Baltimore and Washington, DC, but proved to be the downfall of the local steamship lines that had serviced the county rivers for nearly a century. The highway brought new residents and tourists to waterside communities such as Cobb Island and carried agricultural products to urban centers.  Passage of legalized gambling in 1949 brought a postwar wave of tourists who came to frequent the flashy casinos and hotels with neon signs that appeared along Crain Highway, earning the strip the moniker “Little Las Vegas.”  Gambling was outlawed less than twenty years later, but the county continued to grow as a bedroom community of Washington, DC, with new suburban communities constructed on former tobacco fields. By the end of the twentieth century, the previously rural county had become inextricably drawn into the Washington metropolitan area.

The Village of St. Charles was a suburban planned community outside of Waldorf. The 1969 Master Plan called for a series of five villages that provided housing and services for families of a variety of income levels. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

Departing from the narrower focus of earlier survey work, In The Midst of These Plains includes chapters on Tobacco and Charles County’s Working Landscape (Chapter 4), Domestic and Agricultural Outbuildings (Chapter 5), and the Industrial Landscape (Chapter 9) as well as chapters on sacred, civic and commercial buildings. Together they broaden our understanding of the true breadth and diversity of the Charles County built environment and cultural landscapes.   

The Mulco spoon factory opened in Pomonkey in 1945. It produced coffee stirrers, Popsicle sticks, ice cream spoons, tongue depressors and plant markers. It employed 50 to 70 employees including many women. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

The book, which was written by Cathy H. Thompson and Nicole A. Dielhmann, can be purchased from the Historical Society of Charles County or from MHT press at https://mht.maryland.gov/home_mhtpress.shtml.

MHAA Welcomes New Members to its Grant Review Panel

Last year, MHAA transformed its grant review process to feature a panel of exceptional reviewers from all backgrounds and areas of expertise. Including representatives of nonprofit organizations, cultural institutions, state employees, and members of the public, the panel is responsible for reading and ranking the over 200 applications MHAA receives each grant round.  

This past year, MHAA was happy to welcome nine new members to our grants panel, with expertise in fields ranging from education and preservation to communications and art. You can read short bios for the new panelists below. If you are interested in joining the grants review panel for FY 2023 round, you can learn more about the process here and submit this form for consideration by December 31, 2021. 

Garland A. Thomas, Department of Housing and Community Development 

Garland Thomas is a representative of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, where he serves as Assistant Director of the Statewide Team for the Neighborhood Revitalization Unit – Team 2. He has years of experience in state government, administering several state revitalization programs. Serving on the grants panel, he brings expertise in project management, economic development, and grants management.  

Charlotte Davis (Frederick County) 

Charlotte Davis is the Executive Director of the Rural Maryland Council and has more than twenty years of experience serving the state of Maryland. She currently oversees the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund and the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment fund. Her years of experience working with rural Maryland allows her to offer invaluable insights into potential projects across the state.  

Lenett Nef’fahtiti Partlow-Myrick (Pikesville, MD) 

Lenett Nef’fahtiti Partlow-Myrick is an artist, poet, writer, and instructor of English at Howard Community College. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Transdisciplinary Leadership doctoral program at the University of Vermont. She has worked with local, state, and national organizations and has over forty years of experience in fundraising, grant writing, and the proposal review process. Across all of her work, she has maintained a commitment to cultural preservation and sustainability. With her work being displayed at a number of prestigious institutions, Ms. Partlow-Myrick brings a wealth of expertise in the fields of art and culture to the grants review panel.  

Elinor Thompson, Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture  

Elinor Thompson is serving on the panel as a representative of the Maryland Commission on American History and Culture. For over thirty-five years, Elinor has worked in the non-profit sphere on historic preservation and genealogy. She is an expert in preserving and interpreting church and cemetery records and has used her expertise to examine family and community histories. She brings extensive experience with projects pertaining to cemeteries, community history, and cultural heritage.  

Heather Savino (Baltimore, MD) 

Heather Savino is the Director of Development and Marketing for Patterson Park Public Charter School, Inc. She has experience in social work, community action, and social policy. On the panel, she has provided insight into working with youth, representing the LGBTQ* community, and investigating the intersection of race and social services. 

Linda Moore-Garoute (Prince George’s County) 

Linda Moore-Garoute is the Vice President of the Cedar Haven Association on the Patuxent River and Vice Chair of the Town of Eagle Harbor Environmental Advisory Committee. She is an expert in climate change mitigation, being certified as a Climate Change Professional in the state of Maryland in 2020. She has experience working with Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Chesapeake Bay Trust Foundation, and the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission. On the panel, she has focused on finding solutions to mitigate climate change impacts, creating sustainable heritage tourism projects, and highlighting African American cultural landscapes.   

Stephen DelSordo (Cambridge, MD) 

Stephen DelSordo has close ties to the Maryland Heritage Areas Program. He was a founding member of the Heart of the Chesapeake Heritage Area and sat as its first chair for ten years. Since then, he has worked closely with the Indian Tribes of Montana on heritage tourism programs. He brings a national perspective to the grants panel, having worked on heritage tourism projects around the county.  

Samia Rab Kirchner (Baltimore, MD) 

Samia Kirchner is an associate professor of Architecture and Planning at Morgan State University. She has years of experience working in historic preservation and is an expert in urban conservation and waterfront redevelopment. In the past several years, she has applied her expertise to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, serving as a member of their International Cultural Tourism Committee and a desk reviewer for their World Heritage Nomination Dossiers. Her expertise in historic preservation and her experience with the ICOMOS allow her to bring a global perspective to the grants review process, supported by extensive knowledge of the industry’s best practices.  

Jennifer Shea (Claiborne, MD and Chevy Chase, MD) 

Jennifer Shea is a communications strategist and filmmaker with experience in education, theatre, and the arts. Currently, she serves as the Writer and Strategist for the Herson Group, a well known communications consulting firm. Prior to this position, Jennifer worked at Cornell University both as a lecturer and administrator. Outside of these positions, Jennifer has worked in film, directing an oral history project for the Tilghman Watermen’s Museum that was screened on Maryland Public Television and PBS. She is also serving on the board of Maryland Humanities and has past board experience in education and the arts. Jennifer’s years of experience in these fields allows her to contribute a critical perspective when assessing projects through a cultural, educational, and artistic lens.  

We are excited to welcome these exceptional new members to our grants panel. To learn more about MHAA, visit https://mht.maryland.gov/heritageareas.shtml. If you would like to see the great projects that this panel helped fund, you can view a full list at https://mht.maryland.gov/documents/PDF/MHAA/MHAA_CurrentGrantAwards.pdf.    

Join the Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions for Our 40th Anniversary Celebration at the 2019 Annual Symposium on May 18! (Guest Blog)

By Leslie Gottert, Executive Director, MAHDC

This year Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions (MAHDC) is turning forty and it will kick off the celebration of this milestone at its 2019 Annual Symposium on Saturday, May 18, at the beautiful Conference Center of the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ (ERUCC) in downtown Frederick.

Capture

The theme of this year’s symposium is Looking Back, Looking Forward: Considering Maryland’s Historic District Legacy and Future. The morning session will provide an opportunity for attendees to explore the history of their districts through a series of case studies. A break-out session will encourage an exchange of experience about the reinterpretation of district history through the inclusion of new stories. In the afternoon session, attendees will consider the challenge of a changing climate and its impact on Maryland’s historic resources and landscapes with keynote speaker Lisa Craig, nationally recognized preservationist and expert on climate change. A panel discussion, followed by a Q&A, will allow attendees to share experiences from their districts and begin to formulate a vision to inform local strategies. You can learn more about the program or register online here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mahdc-2019-annual-symposium-tickets-59208276549 .

outline drawing of church

Historical Drawing of the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ (used with permission of ERUCC)

Over the past four decades, MAHDC has facilitated an exchange of information among the state’s Historic District Commissions and provided training for commissioners and staff in topics such as design review, law and legal procedures, and ethics that support the effective work of the commissions.  Between the two sessions, after lunch, the Board of Directors will launch the MAHDC fortieth anniversary celebration in the historic ERUCC sanctuary, when it will recognize the support of the Maryland Historical Trust and its Director Elizabeth Hughes,  MAHDC co-founders G. Bernard “Bernie” Callan and Cherilyn Widell, the former Mayor of Frederick, State Senator Ronald Young, and three of the first board members.

2018 Annual Symposium Session

2018 MAHDC Annual Symposium at the University of Maryland, College Park

Since 2016, the MAHDC Annual Symposium has been a lively encounter of over fifty district commissioners, Certified Local Government staff and other preservation professionals and supporters, who gather to learn from experts in the field, ask questions, and exchange lessons learned from their experiences in the field. MAHDC is grateful for the generous support for this event of the Maryland Historical Trust and SuperGreen Solutions/Indowindow, the Symposium’s Principal Sponsor. We look forward to seeing you in Frederick on May 18th and welcoming you to the Symposium! 

A Curated Coin from Calvert County (Guest Blog)

By Kirsti Uunila, RPA, Calvert County Historic Preservation Planner

For the past two summers, MHT archeologists have partnered with the Archeological Society of Maryland (ASM) and Calvert County to investigate the Calverton Site on the shore of Battle Creek to search for what remains of the seventeenth century town. Calverton, also known as Battle Town, was the first seat of Calvert County government. Established around 1668, it was abandoned sometime after the court was relocated to Prince Frederick in 1724. The town site has been in agriculture ever since. Battle Creek has eroded the Calverton Site with an estimated loss of more than 50 meters of shoreline. Using a plat of the town drawn in 1682 (see map), archeologists concluded that some of the town is still on land, including the first home of Michael Taney and other buildings.

A 17th-century plat of Calverton geo-rectified to modern satellite imagery.

An area near the Taney house is believed to have been a dependency or outbuilding related to the dwelling. It contained numerous artifacts from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. One was a large wine-bottle fragment bearing a broken seal with the initial ‘M’. Michael Taney’s, perhaps? Several small features were excavated in the dependency, including an apparent line of postholes. Two of these postholes were situated approximately three feet apart, suggesting the presence of a door. The most notable artifact found was on the edge of one of these postholes. It is a James I silver shilling with a mint mark indicating it was made in 1604. Since the town was not established until sixty years after that, the coin had had a long journey and was likely to have been a treasured object. In “archeologist speak” it had been “curated” by its owner well beyond the date it was minted. Its placement in a posthole that may have held a doorpost suggests a deliberate act, possibly to bring good fortune to the building and its inhabitants.

Colonial bottle glass seal with an “M” mark, possibly for Michael Taney.

The artifacts and records of the second season are being analyzed now and we hope to learn more about the people who lived, worked, and traded in the Colonial port town. Calvert County proposes continuing work at the site and will use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) this spring to locate cellars, hearths, and other features that may be in imminent danger of erosion, and to investigate more of the site.

Curated 1604 James I silver shilling recovered from the base of a burned post at Calverton.