Historical Easton Maryland

Maryland, Easton Guide (A): Historical Easton Maryland

This quaint town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore began in 1709. The arrival of the railroad in 1869 ushered in wealth, stately homes, & thriving businesses. Rich Northeasterners established second homes in Easton, which welcomed them with first-class amenities. Easton today offers culture, shopping, fine dining, and elegant B&Bs amidst charming homes and businesses showcasing history & architecture.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Historical Easton Maryland
Guide Location: USA » Easton
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km
Author: Annie Tobey
Author Bio: Annie Tobey is the Active Woman Traveler who makes her home in Richmond, Virginia and enjoys exploring beyond the boundaries. She has been a professional writer and editor for over twenty years, with a special passion for travel writing and a thirst for knowledge.
Author Website: http://www.activewomantraveler.com
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Talbot County Courthouse
  • Thomas Perrin Smith House
  • Magazine Alley
  • Shannahan & Wrightson Hardware Building
  • Historical Society of Talbot County
  • Avalon Theatre
  • Hotel Site - Tidewater Inn
  • Wrightson House - Inn at 202 Dover
  • Bullitt House
  • First Fire Company
  • 1786 Survey Marker
  • Easton Armory
  • Academy Art Museum
  • Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Christ Church
  • Third Haven Meeting House
1
Talbot County Courthouse

1) Talbot County Courthouse

The original courthouse, in what was once considered the “East Capital” of Maryland, was built in 1711 and replaced in 1794 by a larger, Federally designed building, which inspired landowners on Washington Street to build in a similar style. The courthouse has been expanded to meet the county’s growing needs.

At the courthouse in November 1765, Talbot County locals and the court protested the British Stamp Act; nine years later, the county issued a statement in support of Boston’s Tea Party—the first of any Maryland town to do so.

Although nineteenth century Talbot County had one of the highest percentages of free blacks in the country, many blacks were also held as slaves. Slave auctions were held here each Tuesday and Saturday, where families were often torn apart, sold to different buyers. Attendance at auctions was generally 75-100 buyers.

Frederick Douglass, native of Talbot County and one of the nation’s greatest advocates for the abolition of slavery, spoke at the courthouse in 1878. When visiting the county, Douglass stayed in the Brick Hotel, just across from the courthouse at 103 N. Washington St., built in 1812 and one of the Eastern Shore’s leading hotels of the time.

The copper statue in the courtyard, dedicated in 1916, commemorates local soldiers who served in the Confederacy during the Civil War. It’s one of the many mass-produced war monuments erected after the war up until the Depression.
2
Thomas Perrin Smith House

2) Thomas Perrin Smith House

Just a stone’s throw from the activity at the courthouse, the Thomas Perrin Smith House was built in 1803. It is named for the editor of the town’s first newspaper, the Republican Star, founded in 1800. The paper later became the Star-Democrat. In these buildings, Perrin Smith also ran the post office, a used bookstore, and a printing office.

In 1912, the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club restored the building and continues to occupy it. The Federal-style building has Adamesque sunbursts and fluted pilasters on the dormers and finely detailed transom lights on the first floor doors.
3
Magazine Alley

3) Magazine Alley

This four-foot-wide alley is perhaps one of Maryland’s narrowest named streets. It was used by the local militia during the Revolutionary War as a link between the courthouse and an armory that housed gunpowder. The brick-and-stone armory is no longer standing, so the alley is simply a shortcut for in-the-know locals.
4
Shannahan & Wrightson Hardware Building

4) Shannahan & Wrightson Hardware Building

This building, the oldest store in Easton, has history marked upon its face. Built in 1791 by Owen Kennard, the building changed hands many times and grew upwards. The owners with the greatest longevity were Charles T. Wrightson and William E. Shannahan, who bought it for $6,000 in 1877. For 88 years, it was the Shannahan & Wrightson Hardware Company. Dates on the right side of the store’s face show these owners’ additions: 1877, 1881, and 1889. The present front was completed for a grand opening, which was usurped by a national crisis: the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The building now houses Lanham-Hall Design & Antiques, a novel collection of home decor and personal accessories.
5
Historical Society of Talbot County

5) Historical Society of Talbot County

The Historical Society of Talbot County’s campus includes the museum, three historic homes, an auditorium, gift shop, and Tharpe Antiques Shop. One historic home is a 1795 cottage, home of Quaker cabinetmaker Joseph Neall. Another is the home of Joseph’s brother, also a cabinetmaker, and his family. This is the 1810 Federal-era James Neall House, with authentic Federal furnishings. The third historic house was the studio of noted architect H. Chandlee Forman. The museum’s auditorium is housed in the Old Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church, constructed in 1856 and in active use till 1958. Frederick Douglass spoke here in 1878. The museum’s award-winning gardens feature mature boxwood, a terraced shade garden, an herb garden, fully established perennial beds, and fruit and flowering trees. The museum exhibits, housed in a brick Victorian store, present changing exhibits of artifacts, images and stories that tell the history of Talbot County, reflecting the diversity and cultural heritage of the community, influenced by Native Americans, Quakers, Puritans, Irish and Scottish rebels, merchants, slaves and free blacks, farmers, soldiers, and many others.

The gift shop offers historically significant gift items and regional history books. Tharpe Antiques and Decorative Arts, an antique consignment shop, is located across the street from the museum, at 30 South Washington St. Proceeds from both shops support the activities of the historical society.

Monday – Saturday, 10-4 p.m. Museum admission is free. Guided tours of the houses, Fridays at 11:30 a.m. in April through November for $5 per person. 410-822-0773 or www.hstc.org.
6
Avalon Theatre

6) Avalon Theatre

One of the first “state-of-the-art” movie houses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Avalon Theatre remains mostly unchanged since construction in 1921. It was built during the heyday of vaudeville and silent films, and was the scene of three world premiers, including The First Kiss in 1928, featuring Gary Cooper and Fay Wray.

Though the building has gone through two major restorations, it still exemplifies an early 20th century movie theater. The first renovation was in 1936, when it was refinished in an art deco theme. The second came 52 years later when it was converted to a performing arts and community center. Changes include removal of the cornice, alteration of the front entrance and ticket office, replacement of the original marquee, and division of the second story ballroom into office space. The Avalon has a year-round schedule of entertainment and cultural events, including films and nationally known performers.

www.avalontheatre.com
7
Hotel Site - Tidewater Inn

7) Hotel Site - Tidewater Inn

A hotel has been on this site since 1891. A busy community like Easton, with commerce as well as court activities, needed places for visitors to stay. By the late 19th century, two large hotels began competing with the existing taverns and smaller hotels. In 1891, at the corner of Harrison and Dover, a frame hotel was erected, operating for many years as the Avon Hotel. It was destroyed by fire in 1944, and building of a new hotel began in 1947: the Tidewater Inn. Postwar shortages of steel and plumbing slowed construction, as did difficulty in acquiring the latest in hotel niceties and the time involved in arranging the finest of décor. The official opening took place on September 3, 1949. Since then, meeting rooms and guest rooms have been added, renovations have been completed, and conferences, weddings, and other visitors have stayed at the inn during their visits to Easton.

The Tidewater Inn was designated a Historic Hotel of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2006.

www.tidewaterinn.com
8
Wrightson House - Inn at 202 Dover

8) Wrightson House - Inn at 202 Dover

This home was known for many years as the Wrightson House after its owner, Charles T. Wrightson, of the Shannahan & Wrightson Hardware Building on Washington Street across from the courthouse, and of S. & W. canned foods. Built in 1874, this Victorian-era mansion is one of the few in Easton that shows the influence of Beaux Arts Classicism on domestic buildings, with a wide front porch and nine elaborate dormers protruding from a hipped roof. The house also reflects Gothic, Colonial Revival, and Queen Anne design elements.

In more recent times, the porch had been closed in by previous owners, who had also let the stately home degenerate. New owners came in and restored the home to its original beauty, maintaining many of the original touches in the common area but adding new themes in the rooms that make up the elegant bed and breakfast, one of the town’s several B&Bs. Their painstaking renovation in 2006 was acknowledged by the Maryland Historic Trust and the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. Original details remain, including eleven-foot ceilings, plaster moldings, a hand-carved mantle and staircase, and tile foyer. A stately original fixture is the seven-foot mahogany-framed mirror.

www.innat202dover.com
9
Bullitt House

9) Bullitt House

One of Easton’s oldest and most elegant homes, the Bullitt House was built in 1801. It is a fine example of Federal period architecture and demonstrates outstanding craftsmanship in its brickwork and woodwork.

Thomas James Bullitt- a lawyer, president of Easton National Bank, and prominent resident of the Town of Easton, built the three-story house for his growing family in 1801. In ensuing years, he added a small white structure on the side of the house for his law office, a brick smoke house, a garden, a large carriage house, and slaves’ quarters.

Among other achievements, Thomas Bullitt helped create the Farmers Bank of Maryland, which became the Easton National Bank, in order to support growth in Easton and agriculture in the Mid-Shore area.

He also started the Town Watch, a local militia made up of the town’s older and highly regarded citizens to help protect Easton as the War of 1812 approached.

The Bullitt House is now occupied by the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, which serves philanthropic and charitable programs in the five-county region served by the Foundation. In tribute to Bullitt’s Town Watch, the Foundation recognizes those who support the community by including them in the “Town Watch Society.”
10
First Fire Company

10) First Fire Company

“February 28, 1808 - About 3 a.m. on this Sunday morning the cry of ‘Fire!!’ was heard. The tailor shop, on Washington Street north of Federal Street, had flames showing out the building.”

Thus begins a report from the Easton Volunteer Fire Department. That night, the fire spread and consumed a tavern, saddlery shop, a store, and a home. Although all occupants escaped unharmed, the fire wasn’t contained quickly because citizens hadn’t brought their buckets and had to return home to fetch them. Their efforts did save a new building that was under construction, the Thomas Perrin Smith house.

On March 1, 1808, the citizens of Easton acknowledged that fighting fires should start before the first flame was even ignited. They knew they needed more than just a bucket brigade. They needed better preparation and a new fire engine. Under the leadership of Owen Kennard (who built the building that later became known as the Shannahan & Wrightson Hardware) they raised the needed funds right away. In April, they formed the town’s first fire company.

This building is now the Talbot County Visitor’s Center, providing information for the county as well as for Easton, Oxford, St. Michael’s, and Tilghman Island, on restaurants, shopping, art galleries, entertainment, recreation, and lodging.

The visitors center is open Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday,
9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 410-770-8000 or www.tourtalbot.org.
11
1786 Survey Marker

11) 1786 Survey Marker

Seventy-five years after the establishment of the Talbot County courthouse here, the Maryland legislature decided that the growing settlement should be laid out as a town, to “Lay it Out in the Best and most convenient manner into lots not exceeding one-half acre each.” A panel of five commissioners oversaw the work of laying out the town’s streets, alleys, and lots as well as naming the streets. Washington Street was named after George Washington; Dover after a neighboring town; Goldsborough for a prominent Talbot County family; and Hanson for Maryland native John Hanson, who was president of the Continental Congress. The surveyor was John Needles, a Quaker and a member of the Third Haven Meeting House. He divided the town into 118 lots.

This granite stone is perhaps the last known marker from that 1786 survey. The survey map assigned the number 23 to the lot on the northeast corner of South Harrison and South Lane, where this stone lies, marked with the Roman numerals “XXIII.”
12
Easton Armory

12) Easton Armory

This imposing stone building is reminiscent of a medieval castle, with towers flanking the arched entrance. It was built in 1929 for the MD National Guard and served as their armory till 1976. In 1997, the building became home of the Waterfowl Festival, a nonprofit “dedicated to wildlife conservation, the promotion of wildlife art, and the celebration of life on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.” The group installed the large bronze goose sculpture in front of the building, created by internationally renowned sculptor Bart Walter.

Each November since 1971, the organization has hosted a wildlife art and sportsman’s festival in Easton, with the Armory as the hub. Between 15,000 – 18,000 visitors peruse exhibits of waterfowl art, including paintings, sculpture, carvings, photography, decoys, crafts and folk art, all available to view and many to purchase. Guests to the Waterfowl Festival can also browse sportsmen’s goods and gear, hear the World Championship Goose Calling Contest® and the Mason-Dixon Regional Duck Calling Contest, and see retriever, fly-fishing and shooting demonstrations, a decoy auction and other appropriate activities. Proceeds benefit projects that promote and enhance wildlife conservation.

During the rest of the year, the building is rented by other nonprofits, with occasional exhibits open to the public. www.waterfowlfestival.org
13
Academy Art Museum

13) Academy Art Museum

This building’s birth as an 1820s schoolhouse is apparent in the belfry and the quill weather vane atop the left portion of the Academy Art Museum. The right portion was built in 1866 as the first Talbot County public high school.

The two buildings have since been joined to create 24,000 square feet of five galleries, art and dance studios, conference rooms, library, and atrium. The Academy Art Museum, accredited by the American Association of Museums, is nationally recognized for its permanent collection and changing exhibitions, performing arts, and arts education. It hosts over 65,000 participants in 300 visual and performing arts programs for children and adults annually. The permanent collection features American and European masters.

The academy is open to the public Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; with extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until 7 p.m. 410-822-ARTS (2787) or www.art-academy.org.
14
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church

14) Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church

The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church has played an important role in the religious lives of black Eastonians since 1818, when it was established. The modest brick building is typical of mid-to-late nineteenth century ecclesiastical buildings, with allusions to Gothic revival in pointed arch windows and corner buttresses.

One slave who was born in Talbot County in 1818, ran away in 1838. He changed his name to Frederick Douglass and became one of the nation’s greatest advocates for the abolition of slavery, and a powerful and influential orator. In November of 1878, Douglass returned to Easton as a guest of the Talbot County Republican Party, where he spoke at the courthouse and to two African Methodist Episcopal churches, including Bethel A.M.E. Church.
15
Christ Church

15) Christ Church

St. Peter’s Parish was founded in 1692, and Christ Church is the fifth place of worship for its people. The original building was built circa 1840 of Port Deposit granite reflecting the revival of English Gothic architecture in the nineteenth century, using the architectural plan of William Strickland from a church erected soon before in Salem, New Jersey. The original structure consisted of the nave, the tower with steeple, and tripartite doors with a straight lintel. Pinnacles on the corners at the top of the tower added elegance to the fretwork at the base of the steeple. It was the first church in Easton to add a spire and church bell to the tower.

Later additions demonstrate a similar concern for quality design. The 1874 addition used architect E. Francis Baldwin of Baltimore. Memorial windows were added in 1902-03 and 1943. The rectory, just west of the church, was built in 1856, designed by Richard Upjohn, architect of Trinity Church, Wall Street. The Parish House was designed by T. H. Chequier of Baltimore, and added to in 1962 using granite building blocks from the facade of Easton’s Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church (which was no longer meeting as a congregation) to maintain consistency with the original parish house.
16
Third Haven Meeting House

16) Third Haven Meeting House

This Quaker meeting house, built circa 1684, is the oldest building in Talbot County, one of the oldest frame houses of worship in the United States, and the oldest religious building in the nation in continuous use.

Many of Talbot’s early settlers were Quakers, seeking a haven from religious persecution. Built at the headwaters of the Tred Avon, it could receive Friends travelling by water or land for the monthly all-day meetings. One of the builders of the meeting house was William Southeby, an early Quaker abolitionist, one of the first white Americans to condemn slavery. Building the structure took two years, since timbers were hewn with a broadax and hand-finished.

Several famous people have been in this humble building. William Penn preached here, accompanied by Lord & Lady Baltimore. Frederick Douglass, born a slave in Talbot County, one of the nation’s greatest advocates for the abolition of slavery, and a powerful and influential orator, also spoke here.

True to the welcoming spirit of the Quakers, the building is open to the public daily. www.thirdhaven.org