St Michaels Historical Walking Tour
St. Michaels Museum
Rated the Best Maritime Museum on The Bay by Chesapeake Bay Magazine.
Dedicated to the preservation of the Bay's maritime history, the waterside museum on Navy Point consists of 26 buildings on approximately 18 acres of land. There are floating exhibits include the skipjack 'Rosie Parks, currently undergoing restoration, the bugeye 'Edna Lockwood', the buy boat 'Old Point', a boat-building and repair shop, and waterfowling and 'History of the Bay' exhibits. The Steamboat Building is the newest addition and houses the newest 1812 exhibit focusing on the life of the people on the Eastern Shore during the War pf 1812. The Hooper's Strait Lighthouse, which dominates the area, was moved into the museum grounds in 1966 and is a favorite for adults and kids alike! The Museum is not just for history or boat lovers in that it has something for everyone and is the crown jewel of St Michaels.
Originally part of Samuel Hambleton's 'Perry Cabin Farm.' 'Navy Point' and 'Perry Cabin' were names given by Hambleton, who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie as a U.S. Navy Purser and acting Lieutenant on the Lawrence (War of 1812) and had a high regard for his commander Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. 'The Point' was divided into lots in 1849. Soon after that, three houses were built on the harbor named Higgins House, Dodson House and The Eagle House. Navy Point was also home to many oyster and crab processing houses including the Coulbourne and Jewett Seafood Packing Company, a black owned enterprise that devised the five level grading system (regular, claw, special, backfin, Lump) which is still used by the crab industry today
On the left, Circa 1856, The Higgins House named for its last occupants. In 1884 this two-story frame house was acquired by the Dodson family.
The Dodson House, a three-story brick structure built as a story-and-a-half house around 1851 by Thomas Dyott. In 1886, it was raised to three stories by Richard Dodson, who intended to use it as a hotel. This was never done and it continued as a residence of the Dodson family for many years.
The Eagle House,nearest the roadway, is on the site of a steam saw and grist mill which had to be rebuilt twice due to fire and explosions. A wharf in front was the landing for the steamboat OLIVE, a Dodson enterprise and one of the vessels used in the design of the Replica Steam Ferry 'The Patriot'. The building site was acquired in 1893 by the Dodsons and the house was built on it, duplicating a house on their nearby farm land. The house is named for the eagle located on the roof --- added at the beginning of the 20th Century, and said by some to have been at one time a tugboat's pilot-house ornament.
The Patriot is a replica of the type of Steam Ferries that brought visitors to St Michaels in the 1930's. She is a 65' long, 26' wide vessel weighing 197,000 pounds when carrying 2400 gallons of fuel and 1200 gallons of water. The Patriot provides narrated historical cruises 7 days a week in season. It recounts the history of the area while viewing historic mansions, beautiful estates and wildlife. The Patriot has air conditioning, restrooms and a snack bar with adult refreshments
Built on the site of many earlier bridges, today's bridge joins Navy Point to Cherry Street. It has been variously known as 'Sweetheart Bridge' and 'Lovers' Bridge.' It is the only remaining bridge of three that at one time connected the town with outlying areas around the harbor. On many weekends during the 'season', you will find brides and grooms having pictures taken while getting married in St. Michaels
This house was designed and build by Henry Clay Dodson in 1873. It was bought by Norman M. Shannahan in 1911 and remained in the Shannahan family until 1987. The size of the house and its unique mansard roof set the Shannahan House apart from the other houses of St. Michaels. The interior, finished with Victorian millwork, is largely unaltered. Originally with a basement kitchen, a dumbwaiter still serves what is now the cellar and the first floor. The Shannahan house now serves as a wonderful waterfront B&B called Aida's Victoriana Inn.
The Snuggery is one of the oldest houses in St Michaels and was formerly located nearer the water, on the site of the large mansard-roofed house next door, popularly known as the Shannahan House. The Snuggery was moved to its present location in 1870 by Henry Clay Dodson and was given a complete Victorian renovation. The house is unusual in that it is one of the very few remaining log houses in St. Michaels. Its date of construction is uncertain, but the lot from which it was moved was leased to Robert Dodson in 1784, and tax records show that a Robert Dodson had a log house on the lot in 1798. Beneath the modern siding there are said to be black walnut logs 16 to 19 inches thick. The Victorian interior features marbled mantels and period woodwork. Today, The Snuggery is an outstanding B&B close to both the St Michaels harbor and Main Street.
The oldest section of this house was built as a tavern by Joseph or Samuel Harrison in 1799 or 1800. The house was doubled in size by Judge William H. Bruff's wife, Sarah Louisa, in 1872. It was bought by Dr. Robert A. Dodson in 1878; he used it as a residence and office. The first post office in St. Michaels, established in 1802, is said to have occupied the small rear wing of the building. The house has its original fireplaces, doors and flooring. The house remains one of the best preserved examples of federal period architecture in the historic district and is featured in the Talbot County Historical Society's Frederick Douglass site map. In his autobiography, Mr. Douglass describes his visit to the house in 1877, where he and his former master reconciled their differences.
This house stands on a lot which once extended to the water. Thomas L. Haddaway operated a shipyard here in the late 1700s - and it has been used for that purpose ever since! The house, which has been remodeled recently, was one of the typical story-and-a-half cottages of the boatyard workers. The actual Shipyard is now located roughly on the location of Higgins Yacht Yard
This house, built between 1800 and 1810, is one of the last relatively unmodified survivors of many almost identical dwellings which once lined the streets of old St. Michaels. Inhabited by workers in the shipyards, a house and lot of this type sold for about $200.
In the late 1700's, the population of St Michaels included slaves as well as a sizeable population of free blacks, Native Americans and transplants from the West Indies. The town was described as a rowdy one, in keeping with a port town where sailors would come for a little excitement. They found it in town, where there were saloons and working-class townsfolk ready to do business with them. Fights were common especially in an area of town called Hells Crossing. Ruth Starr Rose, one of America's foremost lithographers, captured the feeling of the time in the attached lithograph. This particular black and white lithograph, entitled 'Hell's Crossing,' depicts a street scene in the neighborhood of St. Michaels named after rowdy sailors making their ways home after a time away at sea and an evening back on shore
Build in 1895, this Gothic Revival structure, supplemented by a church hall built in 1968, is one of the outstanding buildings in the northeast section of St. Michaels. Local black builder Horace Turner participated in building this structure. The pristine Victorian interior, except for replacement of most of the pews, has the original colored glass windows, bronze chandeliers with milk glass globes, and a pipe organ. The land on which the church stands was bought by the church from the heirs of Samuel Hambleton (of Perry Cabin) for $150 in 1894. Two cemeteries are associated with the church: Union Methodist Cemetery 1882-1953 between Dodson St and Trusty St. on the west side of N. Talbot St. and Charles F. Thomas Memorial Cemetery 1953 between Railroad Ave. and North St. west of Fremont Street.
Freedom's Friend Lodge 1024 was formed in 1867 in St. Michaels as a black mutual aid and fraternal society under the auspices of The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows.
A formal lodge building was constructed in 1883 and still stands today on Fremont Street in St. Michaels. The material and oral history evidence of this organization, and its sister organization, The House of Ruth, are important keys to Talbot County's black history
St Michaels Library is part of the Talbot County Free Library system and part of the Maryland Interlibrary Loan Organization (MILO). A large part of the Library's financing comes from local donations. The museum is a strong partner with the community holding many programs for children and adults.
The Town Hall Mall is a pivotal structure in the downtown streetscape of St Michaels. Its bold gable front elevation is decorated with large fluted brackets. In 1870, the “Masonic Company of Talbot County” was incorporated “to erect a building to contain a Masonic Lodge Room and a Town Hall to be used as a place of Public Meeting.” In 1872, the Lodge sold the property to a local businessman. Under a series of owners the meeting room was variously used as a bowling alley, movie house, and storage loft, while the first floor has housed a hardware store, barber shop, printing office, and variety store.
In 1781, James Braddock gave the Society of Methodists one-half of two lots on St. Mary's Square. Here they erected the first place of Methodist worship in Talbot County. The first church of brick was about thirty by forty feet with fifteen-foot corner posts. The interior was lighted with tallow candles. Overhead, three galleries seated the overflow from the ground floor benches. Shortly after the War of 1812, the Methodists adopted the formal name of 'Sardis Chapel'. It was to remain that title until 1955. In 1829 Sardis Chapel was incorporated under state law to secure the original property on the Square. In 1839, with the influx of planters to the St. Michaels area, the first church was razed and a brick building was erected. The corner-stone was laid on July 4, 1839. The building still stands on St. Mary's Square, presently occupied by the Masonic Order.
By 1869 the church was too small for the membership, and it was decided to construct a new brick church on lots purchased on Talbot Street. The corner-stone was laid on April 12, 1871. The building was dedicated on May 14, 1874 and was debt-free. This is the church you see above.
The Wrightson House is the first house from the corner on Thompson St., or 'Bruffs Alley.' It stands on land sold to John Wrightson by John Thompson for 12 pounds current money in 1791. The house has handsome original hand-carved mantels and matching cupboards, probably the work of John Bruff. Other examples of the work by John Bruff can be found in the Bruff-Mansfield House (which he built) and in the Col. Joseph Kemp House.
Construction of this prominent Flemish and common bond brick is credited to Col. Joseph Kemp, a revolutionary soldier and hero of the War of 1812. Col Kemp actively participated in the Battle of St Michaels, commanding a cavalry patrol along San Domingo Creek. Col Kemp purchased Lot 18 of Thompson's Square in 1807. It is presumed from the construction features that Kemp financed the construction of the house soon afterwards. Col. Kemp occupied his brick dwelling until his death around 1828. The house stayed in the Kemp family until early in the 20th century. General Robert E. Lee spent two nights in the house as a guest of then owners Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Sparks. The house is now part of The Old Brick Inn complex.
This house, built by the Bruff family, is located on part of a tract called “Chance,” originally patented to Arthur Emory in 1673 and resurveyed for Edward Elliott in 1725. It was built between 1815 and 1840 in the tradition of the Wrightson House (Site 23) and The Cottage (Site 4). With traditional story-and-a-half, steeply pitched roof, and dormer windows, it is a larger version of local artisan’s houses of the first half of the 19th century.
Believed to have been named for the Caribbean Island of Santo Domingo, this body of water is locally known as 'Back Creek'. The headwaters begin near the end of Grace St. This creek was the site of Jacob Gibson's prank on the Town of St. Michaels during the War of 1812 when Gibson sailed up San Domingo Creek flying a red flag. The townfolk fell for the prank and called out the Militia believing they were being attacked by the British. The town did not think much of Gibsons joke and while not being very apologetic, Gibson procured two cannons and gave them to the town. These cannons were quickly used in the defense of St Michaels on August 10, 1813 when the British attacked.
The Square was the feature of the original plan of St. Michaels developed by James Braddock in 1778. Braddock was a factor (agent) for the English firm of Gildart & Gawith, who arrived in Talbot County about 1774. In 1778, he purchased 127 acres at an auction of the real estate of Captain Philip Wetheral. Braddock laid out approximatly 20 acres of this land into streets and lots (mostly 60 x 120 feet), calling his town 'St. Michaels'- after the parish and river of that name. Braddock died in 1782 and the original plat of the town --- which had never been recorded --- was lost.
The St. Michaels of today is based on a reconstruction of Braddock's plan as revealed by the deeds for his original land sales and by a survey made in 1804-1806 in accordance with an Act of the Legislature which officially created the Town of St. Michaels.
It is said that a 'public market house' was built on the Square around 1805, and that guns and cannons used in the Battle of St. Michaels during the War of 1812 were stored within it. The 'Mechanics' Bell' now located on the Square was rung daily at 7 a.m., 12 noon, and 5 p.m., and measured the working day for the carpenters in the nearby shipyards.
St Michaels Museum at St. Mary's Square is located in the heart of this historic town on what locals call 'The Green.' It provides a fascinating look at life in St. Michaels in the 1800's. The museum consists of three vernacular buildings moved to the Square from their original locations. The complex occupies the former site of St. Michaels High School, circa 1800. In 1771, as one of the earliest attempts at planned development, James Braddock laid out The Green to serve as the Town Center, enclosed by gated entrances. In addition to residences, various enterprises included houses of worship, schools, and an open-air market for farmers to sell their goods.
The Museum is made up of 3 separate structures: The Sewell House, The Chaney House and the Teetotum Building.
The Sewell House, circa 1865, was the home of local waterman Jeremiah Sewell and his family of six. It was moved to the site from Mill Street in 1964 when the museum, then known as St. Mary's Square Museum, was established. The house is furnished in period pieces that reflect the life of a typical working family of the time.
The Chaney home stands independently from the other buildings. Built by three free African American brothers, circa 1850, the two room house is typical of its genre. After the brothers were able to buy their freedom from slavery, their father came to live with them. Later their sister and her family also resided with them once they were freed. Partially restored, the home may be viewed. It contains exhibits on African American life in the community and houses a library on the second floor.
Built in 1860 as a commercial structure, the Teetotum Building got its name because of the roof's resemblance to a toy top of the period. Originally located on Willow Street, the building variously served as a magistrate's office, a town jail, a saddle shop, a mortuary, a bank, and a barber shop.
The Cannon Ball House in Saint Michaels Maryland is a historic house built in the early 19th century. The Federal style house is a side-hall double-parlor design on a corner lot, built for shipbuilder William Merchant. During the war of 1812, during the battle of St. Michaels, a cannonball penetrated the roof of his house, rolled across the attic floor and bounced down the staircase, frightening the occupant, Mrs. Merchant, who was carrying her infant daughter downstairs. A closed brick curtain separated the kitchen wing from the main part of the house. Lovely herringbone chair rails, pine mantels, and a curved arch in the lower hall are original. William Merchant died intestate, and the house was sold by John Dorgin, trustee, in 1831, for the sum of $1,000. The house is still privately owned.
The Cottage, otherwise known as the Lambdin House is a well preserved story-and-a-half center hall frame house on 'Lot51'. Lambdin acquired the lot in 1839 from Elizabeth Jones, widow of Wrightson Jones. The house remained in the Lambdin family until early in the 20th Century. Lambdin and his sons were shipwrights who built large bay craft such a schooners, pungies and bugeyes. His shipyard was located partially on land rented from the town at the foot of Mulberry Street.
Originally built with exposed brick gable ends and brick nogged frame walls, the Amelia Welby house was probably built for Philip Wetheral during the last quarter of the 18th century. Wetheral purchased the property from James Hewes, a blacksmith in 1772. Wetheral operated an active blacksmith shop as evidenced by a lengthy list of ourstanding debts to the 'smith's shop' including two 90-ton schooners under construction. After Wetheral's death around 1774, the harbor-sited property was purchased by James Braddock and later William Harrison, another blacksmith. Amelia Coppuck Welby is thought to have been born in the house while her parents rented the property in 1819. Amelia Welby, called by some the first Poet Laureate of Maryland moved back to Easton with her family after a few short years.
The two cannons positioned in Muskrat Park on Church Creek are replicas of the two given the town of St. Michaels in 1813 by Jacob Gibson as a peace offering after his mischievous prank (see San Domingo Creek paragraph). The cannons were given by the National Park Service to replace the originals, which are believed to be at Fort McHenry, Baltimore. The originals were confiscated by Federal troops from the Arsenal in Easton at the beginning of 'The War between the States.' The replicas are fired on special occasions by the present-day 'St. Michaels Blues,' a volunteer group named after the Town Militia during the war of 1812. The cannons were dedicated in 1975
The original cannons were taken to Fort McHenry and have been recently returned to St Michaels to celebrate the bicentennial of the Battle of St Michaels.
Built around 1790 by Thomas Harrison Jr., 'house carpenter,' the two-story side hall/parlor clapboard house is the oldest two story dwelling in St. Michaels. It stands prominently on the town harbor adjacent to Muskrat Park. The house is fitted with late eighteenth century style woodwork. The floors are wide plank heart of pine, and the windows have very old glass. The federal style stair, the raised six panel doors, and the period chair rails are original features
The Bruff-Mansfield House is a one-and-one-half-story frame dwelling built on land that James Braddock purchased from John Bruff in 1778. The early date of the house is most conspicuously borne out by the interior which still contains many of its late eighteenth-century details. These include two large fireplaces, unusual paneling and hand-hewn floor joists showing marks of the broad-ax. Remarkably, many of the wood dowels used to peg the flooring are still in place.
The Tarr House was build circa 1800-1810 and is a one-and a-half story, Flemish-bond brick house supported by a raised common brick foundation. A frame addition was added around the second quarter of the 19th century by Benjamin Blades for Captain Josiah Thomas, then the owner, from flood debris picked up in the Chesapeake Bay.
Christ Church - St. Michaels Parish was founded in 1672 on the banks of what was then known as Shipping Creek, as one of the Chesapeake Bay areas original water churches for the Church of England. The English crown levied taxes on the colony payable on the feast day of St. Michael, September 29, and the river and eventually the settlement which grew up around its harbor a thriving center for shipbuilding and shipping of local commodities, notably furs, timber and tobacco, became known as St. Michaels.
Until the War of 1812, Christ Church maintained a simple frame structure, which was replaced by a red brick building in 1814. As the parish continued to grow in parishioners and affluence, this church building was replaced by the present Port Deposit stone and brick building completed in 1878. Well-known New York architect, Henry Martyn Congdon (1834-1922) designed the new church. Congdon also designed St. James Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, St. Thomas Church in Hartford, Connecticut, St. Michaels High Street in Brooklyn and the Long Walk at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. The style of architecture chosen for Christ Church was high Victorian Gothic.
Historic treasures abound inside Christ Church. Below the pulpit is the baptismal font, a gift from Queen Anne shortly after she ascended the throne in 1702. Another larger, memorial font is located near the entrance to the nave. Communion silver, also a gift of Queen Anne, may be seen in the security case near the side entrance.
During the Battle of St. Michaels in the War of 1812, the Church housed St Michaels Militia. During the 1878 construction of the present edifice 65 years after the battle, several muskets were discovered under the flooring, believed to have been left there by troops bivouacked in the church
This white brick former residence was built around 1806 by Irishman and merchant James Dooris, a fervent critic of the British during the War of 1812. He purchased the land in 1806, from a prominent planter, William Sears, who had previously purchased it from Christ Episcopal Church in 1802.
Along with the Cannonball House, The Old Inn is one of the more interesting buildings in St. Michaels. It was built in 1816 by Wrightson Jones, who operated a shipyard at Beverly. The building is a two-and-one-half-story, four bay Federal style structure with a two-story, two bay brick kitchen wing on its south gable end and a frame wing on the east. The main facade, laid in Flemish bond and reworked in several places, has two entrances on the first story and a door leading to a two story porch shading the facade. The porch is set under the gable roof of the house and within the north wall, the lower half which has been removed. The kitchen wing has a flounder roof, which slopes from the two stories on the facade to one on the rear and resembles the kitchen wing on the Cannonball House.
This house was built by Matthew and Elizabeth Spencer around 1840. The name was given to the house by Dr. John Miller, who resided here after 1847. It remained in the family until sold by his two maiden daughters in 1936. Dr. Miller, a physician, developed East Chew Avenue and Marengo Street before the area was included in the Town of St. Michaels. The house contains a mahagony staircase, original ornate plaster mouldings, 'cross' doors, and a milk-glass chandelier in the large first-floor living room. The house was operated briefly as The St. Michaels Academy.