An historic river town, extending for approximately one mile along the east bank of the Susquehanna River, Port Deposit had several names prior to 1813, when the governor gave the town its present name. An inconsequential collection point for lumber floating down river from Pennsylvania at the time, the town was bypassed by the marauding British during the War of 1812 who bypassed the Town in favor of burning a warehouse across the river.
Within the span of a quarter century, however, Port Deposit had risen in importance in the lumber, grain, coal, whiskey, and tobacco trade, being the furthest point downstream on the Susquehanna River, and the furthest navigable point upstream for ships plying the Chesapeake Bay. While the lumber floating down river provided the country with building materials, one of Port Deposit’s own industries produced building material of unmatched quality. By the early nineteenth century the granite deposits of the town were, from an engineering standpoint, to have few rivals. It was, however, the tone and texture of the stone that made it a favorite aesthetic choice. The quarries, located north of the town, provided the granite used for many churches, schools, and buildings in Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia. Many of Port Deposit’s buildings, constructed of this granite, provide the town with an unrivaled tradition of stone masonry. With all the work available in the mills, factories, fisheries and lumberyards of Port Deposit the town grew into prominence, becoming the eighth largest city in all of Maryland on the eve of the Civil War. The town had its first bank in 1834 and for many years was the only place between Wilmington and Baltimore where banking could be conducted.
It was not, however, until 1889 that the first countywide free school system wasput into place. An outspoken critic of the school system was the industrialist, Jacob Tome who arrived in Town in 1833 penniless on a log raft and became one of the wealthiest men in the country. He personally subsidized the Port Deposit school system andafter his death in 1898 a boarding school for boys, considered the most beautiful “Prep School” in the United States was established on the high bluff overlooking Town.
The completion of the Conowingo Dam in 1927 and the rise of concrete as a building material instead of stone hastened the decline of Port Deposit. The Tome School for Boys closed in 1940 and the next year the sprawling campus was taken over by the U.S. Navy to become the principal training center on the East Coast during World War II. In 1947 the recruit-training section was closed, and thereafter used only sporadically by the Navy, finally closing in 1976. Industry revived briefly in Port Deposit in 1980when the Wiley Manufacturing Company occupied much of the water front to manufacture tunnels under the Baltimore Harbor for I-95.
Today Port Deposit retains much of its 19th-century character. Our walking tour of the granite buildings and historic structures in this one-street deep town will begin at its center in the Town Square and go in both directions...
Town Square at Center Street and Main Street
The fountain was erected by Martha Beach, a teacher and artist, in memory of her mother Miranda in 1903. It was built to refresh horses, people and dogs. From the bank steps one can see a bird bath carved out of the top.
WALK SOUTH ON SOUTH MAIN STREET (THE SUSQUEHANNA RIVER WILL BE ON YOUR RIGHT).
Cecil National Bank
6 South Main Street
Built of Port Deposit Granite and faced in limestone in 1906, the Cecil National Bank served the community for more than 75 years before merging with The First National Bank of Maryland in 1981. After Wiley Manufacturing closed, the town could no longer support a full service bank and the branch closed in 1984. First National gifted the tidy Neoclassical building to the town shortly afterwards.
8 South Main Street
Built in the late 1800s, this quaint and charming building was home to Carson’s Pharmacy for many years and the initials “CP” can still be seen, carved on the sides of the stone front step.
10 South Main Street
George Oldham built this substantial three-story Victorian in the 1890s. The first floor has always been retail space, having originally be used for a general store. The upper floors are living quarters. Though renovated many times, the formal rooms upstairs, that include a parlor, have been retained.
16 South Main Street
This house is of late Georgian architectural style with Greek Revival porches. The Marquis de Lafayette was entertained here when toured America a half-century after the Revolutionary War during 1824. At that time it was the home of Daniel and Mary R. Megredy. Lt. L.A.C. Gerry of Snow’s Civil War Battery B inherited it from Cornelius Smith, who added the porches and railings. The columns were from trees cut on his land and the cast iron porch railing, embellished with sheaves of wheat between lyres, denotes Mr. Smith’s pride as a farmer. The railings were said to have been cast in Baltimore. Note the granite slabs used to support the second story. In 1981 the Port Deposit Heritage Corporation received this property from Miss Janette Westerfield, grand-daughter of L.A.C. Gerry and descendent of Mrs. Cornelius Smith. The exterior of this beautiful and historic house was restored by the Port Deposit Heritage Corporation and is now a private residence.
15-17 South Main Street
When William Winchester bought this 1860s building in 1911 it was in use as a double dwelling. He opened a candy making business on the north side and later installed a soda fountain, and the family lived over the store. With guests at the Falls Hotel and the Tome “School for Boys,” his homemade Easter eggs were famous. Ackers Dry Goods Store was on the south side. Ralph Winchester inherited the place and ran a bar on the south side until he retired in the 1960s. The north side of the building was the domain of six Bittner sisters who operated Bittner’s Restaurant for decades.
19-21 South Main Street
This three-story, two-bay brick structure from the 1850s is characteristic of the Italianate period. The cornice is bracketed and has a lovely long side porch (several additions were added to the rear later). The display windows on the ground floor partially conceal two cast iron columns. The upper floors are now apartments.
20 South Main Street
This Federal-style building was constructed in 1857 with a gabled roof. The now present mansard roof was added to give more room when the property was converted to four apartments. After a fire in 1991 the property was renovated to have a commercial space on the first floor and one apartment above.
26 South Main Street
This building was erected by Cornelius Smith as a hotel and, until 1859, it was called Commercial and Farmers Hotel and was rented to Joseph McMullen of Perryville. From 1859 to 1876 it was owned by Robert Smith and was named Smith's Hotel. In 1892 John Falls bought it and the name changed again, and remained Fall's Hotel until 1920. An additional section extended south toward High Street; its roof outline is still visible on the south end of the building. Over the years it has also served as a hardware store, restaurant and apartments.
23 South Main Street
James H. Rowland built this house in 1856 and lived here until 1904 when the Presbyterian Church bought it for use as a manse. The pastors lived here until 1983, when the property was sold to a private owner. It is an example of a style of architecture which was popular in Port Deposit, Greek Revival, characterized by the three story height with the top story having very small windows. The closed shuttered windows are dummies used to achieve symmetry. The porch with its wide eaves and brackets and the ornamented columns give it its Italianate style.
38 South Main Street
Although this is an early Port Deposit house, from the 1840s, it has been altered with the addition of a bold Italianate porch with Romanesque columns and heavy bracketed eaves, brackets along the cornice, and two-story bay window with bracketed cornice at the south end. Quadruple brick chimneys rise at either end.
42 South Main Street
Built in 1888 by Henry Clay Nesbitt whose parents lived next door, this house is a very fine example of Victorian Queen Anne architecture. In 1902 Evalyn Tome France, Jacob Tome’s widow and the daughter of Mr. Nesbitt, bought the house and added the south bay window rooms and tower. The home has four very ornate tiled fireplaces, two sets of pocket doors, and beautiful carved arches as well as many other original details and its own bomb shelter, a relic of the Russian-U.S. confrontation over Cuba in the 1960s.
Port Deposit Presbyterian Church
44 South Main Street
This church of Port Deposit granite, erected in 1902 in the Norman style, was largely a gift from James Harvey Rowland. The sanctuary has a handsome wooden beamed ceiling. Most of the stained glass windows were commissioned as memorials. This was not the first Presbyterian church in town. The first one was built of stone in 1836, rebuilt in 1872, on a site where the First Baptist Church of Port Deposit now stands. As early as 1804, having no church building of their own, the Presbyterians were preached to from horse-back or standing on an upturned boxby Reverend James Magraw, the minister from West Nottingham. When Reverend Magraw died in 1835 the congregation, in one month, raised $1924.58 to be used as part of the construction cost for their own church.
46-48 South Main Street
This lovely house from before the Civil War is another example of the street level floor being builtfor storage with the living quarters in the upper floors because of floods and the granite underlying the town. There is now an apartment on the first floor. The upper stories are brick walled. The graceful bracketed eaves are typical of the Italianate period. Due to the narrow lot the porch was located on the side, permitting a front yard which for three generations has been a rose garden. The graceful iron fence was made by great-grandfather Touchstone at a neighboring foundry.
50 South Main Street
The roof pediment distinguishes this house which was erected, in the Italianate style, as a single dwelling in the 1830s. In the early 1930s the house was heated by steam piped from a lumber mill across the railroad track. An inspection plate to the original steam line can be seen on the sidewalk in front of the property.
Red Brick Row
52-58 South Main Street
Red brick with granite accents lends color and texture to this Greek Revival style building from the early 1800s. Note the pattern of brick on the street level floor and granite pillars. The cornice is also of brick. As in so many Port Deposit houses the basement is built at ground level with steps leading up to the living quarters above. It was impossible to dig a cellar through the granite ledge on which the town rests and the second stories were at a safe level when ice gorges came down the river. After Donaldson Brown purchased Mt. Ararat Farms, in 1936, he bought the Row House for employee housing. It was sold by Frank Brown after the milk processing plant closed in 1979.
McClenahan - Nesbitt House
60-62 South Main Street
This large double house was built by John McClenahan in the 1880s. The northern half he built for his son, John, and the southern half was built for his married daughter, Mrs. Nesbitt. The homes are mirror images of each other. The first floor front room has a frescoed ceiling and a wide curving stairway with a stairwell open all the way up three flights. There is a fireplace in the entrance hall.
66 South Main Street
This building was constructed for use as a gymnasium by the Jacob Tome Institute in 1905. A gift to the town from Wiley Manufacturing Company, it included the first indoor swimming pool in Cecil County, a basketball court, locker rooms and showers. This stone building has typical Georgian Revival details including the dentiled and modillioned cornice, keystone lintels, and a Palladian window arrangement on the center gable. After interior renovations, completed in 1983, it serves as the municipal offices, library and public meeting room of the town.
Site of Washington Hall
opposite 66 Main Street
The carved columns, located across the street are all that remain of Washington Hall. The brick and granite school building opened for admission of pupils in 1894. The carvings are a likeness of Institute founder Jacob Tome and his wife, Evalyn Nesbitt Tome.
south of 66 South Main Street
Constructed to climb from Main Street to High Street and then to Tome School for Boys, this dramatic stairway of 75 steps begins with a series of wide ramped brick steps followed by a curving stone series leading to a first landing. They continue to a higher overlook offering a marvelous view of 4 bridges and the Susquehanna River to its mouth.
Tome Carriage House
80 South Main Street
A Victorian example of Carpenter Gothic, this structure was probably built when the Tome mansion was erected in 1850. It was once the carriage house of Jacob Tome. The street floor, changed only slightly, is now one large room instead of having horse stalls. The upper story is now a home. After Tome died, Will Moore operated a livery stable and taxi business here.
Tome Gas House
at Susquehanna River across railroad tracks from Carriage House
Very similar in appearance to the carriage house, it was probably constructed during the same period. This stone building also features wide bracketed eaves and a center cupola.
88 South Main Street
For many years this was the home of John Vanneman who owned the wharf opposite his house and from which lumber vessels sailed. The architecture is Federal in the Pennsylvania Farmhouse style. The variation of the three-bay design, with end chimneys integrated in the exterior walls, brought the staircase forward allowing a full double parlor across the back. The original kitchen in the basement has a large fireplace. In all there are seven fireplaces in the stone section.
90 South Street
This house really consists of two houses. The clapboard part, a complete two-and-a-half story, hipped roof house with small Greek Revival attic story windows, faced Main Street in the early 19th century, was turned around in the 1880s and placed against the cliff. The McClenahans constructed the new part of Port Deposit granite. This tall Queen Anne style house has three stories and a partial fourth floor, sixteen rooms, eleven-foot ceilings on the first floor, mahogany woodwork and mantel pieces, nine-foot mahogany doors, and oak staircase, crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, five walk-in closets, marble washbasins and interior shutters which fold into window recesses. Much admired is the Queen Anne chimney with ornate decorative corbeling.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO CENTER STREET AND BEGIN WALKING UP NORTH MAIN STREET.
Mrs. Murphy’s Hotel
1 Center Street
The stone part of the house is constructed in the Federal style. Documents found in the Paw Paw Museum show that Mr. John Creswell owned this house in the 1820s. John A.J. Creswell, his son, was born here in 1828 and became Postmaster General under President Grant. His father died in 1836 leaving the house, a wharf andproperty, including most of the land on the upper side of the street as far as Rock Run, to Rebecca E. Webb Creswell, his widow. In 1850 Rebecca married and later established Murphy’s Tavern. The property was sold to G.H. Richards, Sr. in 1920. He added a large wing to turn it into a hospital. Following his death the building was converted to an apartment house. G.H. Richards, Jr., a physician, had offices here from the late 1940s until his death in 1971.
Susquehanna River opposite Center Street
The town wharf where Jacob Tome shipped lumber; the remains of his mansion have been incorporated into the tiny resting spot on Main Street at Center Street.
15 North Main Street
This is the present site ofthe Water Witch Fire Company. The fire company has remodeled the second floor for a social hall. Earlier, it was here that the Roman Catholics first held local services. It was once a home, a hardware store, and in 1867, a Post Office. It was also, the location for The National Durant Sales by Hipkins and Paxton, the place where Hipkins invented the Hipkins Traction Device for tanks which was used by the Army. and later the home of Hagerty Buick Sales.
The Banking House
20 North Main Street
The circa date of 1834 attached to this building is known only through reference to it having housed the the first bank in Port Deposit. In 1856 the property was owned by Edwin Wilmer who “owned wharves from which vessels sailed” and later became a trustee of the Methodist Church. The 1860 census shows the property being owned by Nathaniel Gilmore, a 49-year old sea captain and, by 1880, the property owner is noted as belonging to J.J. Abrahams. In the 1890s it became part of the Jacob Tome Institute and housed faculty. The construction of the wings enlarged the building to house the Junior School and was named Jefferson Hall. The completed project was not seen by Jacob Tome for he died in 1898, but the structure remained a school until 1969 at which time it suffered a serious fire and was left in ruins until 1985. The building has been rehabilitated as a 20-unit apartment building. The building is constructed of Port Deposit granite with an impressive Greek Revival portico, supported by stuccoed brick columns that extend across the facade.
The Bees Nest
29 North Main Street
Built towards the end ofthe Victorian era in 1902, the original owner of this 14-room home was a young dentist who made his office on the left side of the building. Today the property serves a single family residence.
32 North Main Street
Built by George H. Buck for his wife and six children, this house was a place ofrefuge for the entire neighborhood during flooding, an almost annual event until 1928. Terracing behind the house provided space for gardening and a site for the spring which furnished water to this large, spacious home. The basement was used for food preparation as is evident by the large cook’s fireplace. All of the woodwork in the house is American Chestnut and the main staircase, as well as the floors, are heartwood oak. As wastypical of the era, there is a clear distinction between the moldings used in the upper floors and those used in the main level; the higher the level the less fanciful is the detailing. Also of interest, on a similar note, is the detailing of the cornices adorning the exterior of the house. The sides facing the public have a great deal of Victorian scroll work; the other sides are less ornate.
36 North Main Street
Originally the land was part of the estate of John Creswell. A deed of September 4, 1838, recorded a 99-year lease on the lot of ground and premises. As was the practice of the time, the first floor provides space for commercial enterprise while the upper floors serve asliving quarters. In the early 1920s the Flabbis operated a shoe shop in the store front and lived upstairs. The Graybeals had a bait and tackle shop here in the middle of the century.
41 North Main Street
This two-story, two-bay brick house from the 1850s has stone trim and a dentiled cornice. A Greek Revival period door isflanked by paneled shutters. The one-story Victorian porch is probably a later addition.
Former Municipal Building
53 North Main Street
The buildings cost was shared equally by the Board of Town Commissioners, who owned the first floor and used it as an engine and wheel house; and the Board of County Commissioners, who held school on the second floor; and the Harmony Lodge, which owned the third floor. The Knights of the Golden Eagle purchased the second floor in 1897 and they sold it to Harmony Lodge in 1920. Harmony Lodge still owns both the second and third floors and the town still owns the first floor.
58 North Main Street
This very old three-story and basement frame house is in good condition. In the dining room is a large fireplace with crane still intact. The ceilings are low and the stairs narrow, steep and winding. There is a spring up the hill which once supplied the house with water. Mr. George McCullough bought the property March 3, 1867 and it remained in his family until 1952. Mrs. Minnie McCullough Campbell bought the ground rents in March 1923 from Mrs. Sidney Johnson upon expiration of the 99-year leases, seeming to indicate that these lots were first rented in 1824.
68 North Main Street
Known locally as the Swiss Chalet, this house was built as the office for McClenahan Quarry Company and a granite vault with 30-inch thick walls was located in the west end of the room now the kitchen. The building was converted to a home about 1915. In the modernizing, the original fire brick, steel beams and granite window bars were retained. It contains a handsome Port Deposit granite fireplace with a polished granite mantle. This was the home of Mrs. Grace Humphries, founder of the Port Deposit Heritage Corporation.
71 North Main Street
This property consisted of two lots, Nos. 5 & 6, and was surveyed in November of 1833 by John Janney. The building is a 12-room duplex built by the Vannort Brothers just prior to 1860. It is constructed around a large six-unit chimney built of both bricks and granite. The floor joist were shaped by using a pick ax or mattock, then notched and pinned together. Floor boards were shimmed to ensure leveling. The basement is equipped with two large open fireplaces. The ceiling and walls were finished with plaster suggesting that the basement was used as a summer kitchen to escape the heat of the season.
75 North Main Street
This Greek Revival house was reportedly one of the thirteen homes when Port Deposit officially became a town in 1812. Walls of the stone section are 26-inches thick. The frame part was rebuilt in 1881 by Clinton McCullough and the roof is covered with sheet iron from the McCullough Rolling Mills in Rowlandsville. There was a cistern in the kitchen attic to which water was piped from the spring up the street (58 North Main Street). Since 1830 this house has had eleven different owners, six of them being women.
88-94 North Main Street
This four-part, two-and-a-half story row house, in Second Empire style, is covered with German siding and has a high mansard roof with bracketed eaves. The pedimented dormers have decorative bargeboards, and a one-story porch with jig-sawn woodwork stretches across the front of all four units. The tall windows on the first story have triple-hung sashes.
93 North Main Street
This distinguished frame house is of the Greek Revival period with a small porch in the style of an Ionic Order Greek temple. The home has front and rear dormers and tripartite windows. Originally built as a duplex, the north side was destroyed by a fire. For over 100 years this was the home of the Vannort family including two sons known as “skilled woodworkers and craftsmen” and a daughter Laura. None of the offspring ever married and Miss Laura was the last to leave, upon her passing she was in her 90s.
Paw Paw Building
98 North Main Street
Originally this was a one story building. When owned by the Odd Fellows the second story was added and the outside stuccoed - characteristic of many buildings dating to the 1840s and 1850s in Port Deposit. Built in 1821 as the Town’s first Methodist Church, its name derives from two paw paw bushes which flank the entrance. There were separate entrances for men and women and featured a high pulpit on one side of the balcony where slaves sat, reached only by an outside entrance. The building was later used as a meeting hall by Harmony Lodge (1852-67), as an academy, a store and a restaurant. In 1975 the building was purchased by the Port Deposit Heritage Corporation to be restored for use as a museum and library.
99 North Main Street
In 1837 the Methodists raised money to build their 2nd church. This handsome structure was built of Port Deposit Granite and remained a house of worship until 1872 when Tome Memorial Church was built. It then became Port Deposit Academy, a public school. In 1902 it was refurbished, named Nesbitt Hall and presented to Tome Church by Mrs. Evelyn S. Nesbitt, in memory of her parents. The building is now used for church related and community affairs and is the meeting place of the Port Deposit Lions Club.
Tome Memorial Methodist Church
104 North Main Street
With its tall tower of stone, this church of Port Deposit granite was rendered in a revival of its architectural style, German Romanesque. A gift of Jacob Tome, it cost $65,999.00. The church houses a John Steere organ built in 1910. Under the floor cover in the lower hall one used to notice several one inch holes bored to accelerate recession of frequent flood waters.
160 North Main Street
This was an old inn and, according to Cecil County, Maryland- A Study in Local History by Alice Miller, it was alluded to in the following reference: “In 1803, mails for Brick Meeting House, Rising Sun, Unicorn, Black Horse, and Sorrel House closed every Friday at 12 o'clock noon.” One side of this house was once a bake shop; a stone oven was in the back wall.
St. Teresa’s Roman Catholic Church
162 North Main Street
This beautiful, late Federal style, church of St. Teresa of Avila was constructed of Port Deposit Granite and was the mother parish for Good Shepherd. Sunday mass was first offered here by the priest from Havre de Grace. Father John D. Carey was the first Elkton pastor to officiate regularly in Port Deposit. Services were first held in Abrahams Building (now Water Witch Fire Company) and later in the Bank House.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON NORTH MAIN STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT TOWN SQUARE.