Salisbury Towne was created by an act of legislation introduced by John Caldwell to create a county seat for Somerset County. Caldwell claimed that “there is a very convenient place for a town at the Head of the Wicomico River.” Its identical physical character and nationality of the founders have convinced most historians the village’s name was borrowed from the ancient cathedral city of Salisbury, England. A defect in the original town charter and the shallow harbor retarded growth for several decades. But by the 1750s Salisbury was a prosperous town, influenced in part by its chief promoter Caldwell who built the first dam on the east branch of the Wicomico and a bridge over the north branch.
During the 19th century, Salisbury was an active seaport, second only to the City of Baltimore and had been dubbed “the Hub of Delmarva. By 1817, the Downtown area had begun to emerge. The development concentrated itself along Bridge Street (Main Street), Dividing Street (Division Street), and Church Street. When the railroad lumbered down the Delmarva Peninsula in the Civil War it terminated at Salisbury, further enhancing its status as the destination city of the Eastern Shore. Incorporated in 1854, Salisbury became the seat of government when Wicomico was carved off from Somerset and Worcester Counties in 1867.
The face of Salisbury today was influenced by two great fires. The first swept through the central business district in 1860, effectively wiping away the City’s Colonial-era building stock. The commercial core was immediately rebuilt but on October 17, 1886 a small fire was discovered on Dock Street, now Market Street. The flames spread rapidly, so much so that the towns of Crisfield, Pocomoke City and Wilmington, Delaware loaded their fire department steamers on special railroad trains and sent them to Salisbury’s aid. It took 17 hours to control the fire but over 200 buildings were lost. Only one building survived in the center of the City.
Afterwards city zoning law required that important buildings be made only of stone and brick as Salisbury roared back. With the coming of the automobile and its central spot on the lower Eastern Shore cemented the city’s position as the largest city on the Eastern Shore. Our walking tour will start at that sole surviving building of the Great Fire of 1886 then explore the downtown area and finish in one of the original sections of Salisbury that has been made a historic district...
Wicomico County Courthouse
101 N. Division Street
Following the partition in 1867 of Somerset and Worcester counties in order to create Wicomico County, various government offices were scattered around Salisbury’s central business district. In 1878 E.M. Butz designed this Victorian Gothic courthouse - built on the site of the historic Byrd Tavern, a famous hostelry in stage coach days - consolidated the city services, including the fire department and a jail. The exuberant facade features patterned and colored bricks with stone inserts. After fire destroyed the entire downtown area in 1886, it was the only building left standing. Since the 1930s the Courthouse has seen three enlargements.
CROSS DIVISION STREET TO THE SOUTH.
Masonic Temple, Wicomico Lodge No. 91
114 N Division Street
The Masonic Temple, Wicomico Lodge No. 91, erected in 1904, occupies a prominent location across from the county courthouse. The imposing three-story, six-bay brick building is executed in reddish-brown pressed brick with contrasting yellow-brown window and door arches. Over the years the building has played host to a bank, the post office, a business school, and scores of doctors and lawyers.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK WEST ON MAIN STREET INTO THE DOWNTOWN PLAZA.
Salisbury Building, Loan and Banking Building
southwest corner of Division Street and Main Street
One of the city’s outstanding buildings anchors the principal intersection of commerce, designed by the New York firm of Hoggson Brothers in 1914 for the offices of Salisbury Building, Loan and Banking Association. Assembled of stone, brick, and terra cotta, the street elevations offer a rich display of bold architectural elements revived from 16th century Italian designs. The four-story building is divided visually into three sections that correspond to the classical column: a base, delineated by a stone belt course; the shaft, here executed in rich-colored brick; and the capital, a cornice of modillion blocks and a frieze accented with a series of circular medallions.
Alfred C. Dykes Building
107 W. Main Street
The two-story, three-bay rectangular brick commercial building, now Kuhn’s Jewelers, dates to 1892. The face of the gable is distinguished by the date of construction, “1892,” which is embossed in raised numbers along with a scroll that flanks the date. Dykes sold the building to Samuel Johnson in 1901 and it stayed in the Johnson family until 1974.
Thomas H. Williams Building
113 1/2 W. Main Street
Thomas Williams built this three-story, five-bay brickbuilding quickly after the 1886 fire. The ground floor has been reworked but the brickwork above remains original. Plain brick pilasters rise to a corbelled brick cornice. The center windows are topped by round brick arches of raised soldier course bricks with a terra cotta ornament as keystone.
Greater Salisbury Building/Eastern Shore Trust Company
200 W. Main Street
A bank has been located here since the late 1800s; the first, the Salisbury National Bank was erected in 1885 only to fall victim to the great fire of 1886 a year later. A second bank quickly went up and it was razed in 1930 when the property was transferred to the Eastern Shore Trust Company. Their new bank, in distinctive green marble and limestone, was executed in the popular Art Deco style with a metal framework of a repeating arrow motif laid over the entrance and window wall. The carved panels representing the bow and stern of a two-masted schooner tie the building to the Eastern Shore. A century of banking at this address ended in 1990.
Salisbury National Bank
201 W. Main Street
With its colossal Doric columns, the old Salisbury National Bank stands in stark contrast to the other bank buildings on the block. This was the site of the prominent Peninsula Hotel after the 1886 fire but it too burned in the 1920s. This Beaux Arts-inspired building followed around 1930 and features Flemish bond brickwork that includes brick surrounds on the window openings. The pediment that stretches across the width of the facade is executed in stone and features a dentilled crown molding. Highlighting the center of the tympanum is a carved shield and eagle draped in flanking swags.
Farmers and Merchants Bank
206 W. Main Street
The Art Deco stone façade of the 1929 Farmers and Merchants Bank boasts carved eagles perched atop a large glass entrance and window wall, which ascends two stories. The eagle tails, abstracted into a linear design, descend on each side of the window wall to frame the entrance. It replaced an earlier Farmers bank from 1903.
212 W. Main Street
This large three-story, 11-bay commercial building with pressed brick painted white dates to 1890. Over the years the space was occupied by a sewing machine store, a wholesale grocer and a clothier but is best remembered as the home of Woolworth’s. Although the interior has been completely remodeled, the exterior, with a repeating rhythm of arched window openings and terra cotta panels retains a large degree of its 19th-century character.
Vernon Powell Building
218-220 W. Main Street
Prominent among the 20th century commercial blocks on Salisbury’s West Main Street, now Downtown Plaza, is the Vernon Building. Designed in the Renaissance Revival style, the two-and-a-half story brick and stone commercial building is distinctive for its large window openings framed by stone surrounds and featuring turned baluster railings. Three segmental arched dormers pierce a slate roof terminated on each side by parapets. The building was erected shortly after 1936 when the property was acquired by the Montgomery Ward Company for a department store. Following the 1886 fire and the reconstruction of Main Street this lot was occupied by a two-story, tee-shaped frame dwelling that doubled as a dentist’s office.
229 W. Main Street
The Brewington Building was built between 1905 and 1910 by Edwina C. Brewington, who purchased the lot on Main Street in 1892 from John White. Directly influenced by the designs of Henry Hobson Richardson with characteristic over-sized arched openings, the three-story, tan-colored brick building is one of the most distinctive commercial buildings in downtown Salisbury. During the mid-1900s the building was familiar as the home to the Goodman Department Store.
Dorman & Smyth Hardware Company
232-234 W. Main Street
The Dorman & Smyth Hardware Company occupied this handsome corner building during a large part of the 20th century, although it was built by the Jackson family only four months after the disastrous fire of 1886. Resting on a rusticated granite foundation laid with red mortar, the common brick building is accented with a variety of decorative elements including rusticated granite window sills and lintels, stringcourses of soldier bricks laid on a diagonal, and edge-rolled corners to the window openings. A bracketed cornice stretches across the top of the first floor elevation. A bold galvanized metal cornice finishes the top of the parapet wall.
302-304 W. Main Street
One of the most distinctive commercial structures on the Downtown Plaza in Salisbury. The Old Synagogue, so-called because the Beth Israel congregation held services here between 1932 and 1952, is also known as the H.S. Brewington Building. The pressed brick corner building, lighted by Gothic arched colored glass windows and a distinguished corner tower was built in 1892. Over the course of more than one hundred years, the corner storefronts have housed many businesses and organizations, including the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Salisbury and Masonic Lodge.
TURN LEFT ON W. MARKET STREET.
150 W. Market Street
This three-story brick commercial block dates to 1888-90 and was the home of B.L. Gillis & Son, wholesale grocers in its early days. The Victorian storefront with large glass display windows extended back to the Wicomico River where there as access to old wharves. In 1923 the property was transferred to Samuel and William Feldman for use in their furniture business that began in 1906. By the 1930s Feldman’s was one of the largest furniture stores in the region. A faded advertisement on the brick side attests to the fact.
William D. Long Building
146 W. Market Street
The three-story, stretcher bond brick building was built in 1923 in an unusual five-side shape that conforms to the configuration of this corner lot. It was just one of a group of commercial buildings that once defined this downtown intersection but is now the sole survivor amidst a sea of parking spaces.
FOLLOW MARKET STREET AROUND TO DIVISION STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Salisbury Fire Department Headquarters
115 S. Division Street
One hot August night in 1860 a fire broke out at St. Peter’s and Main that quickly overwhelmed the town’s volunteer fire-fighting force of 12 men and their little wooden hand engine. The center of town was in ruins. Following the “Great Fire” of 1860, interest in firefighting was kept alive by a handful of volunteers with crude equipment. On August 25, 1872 the Salisbury Fire Department was organized and purchased a small hand engine with money raised by public subscriptions. In October of 1886 Salisbury was again decimated by fire, ignited in a stable on Dock Street (Market Street today). Brisk south winds spread the flames and the fire department’sL.P Almond pumper failed to function and did not get into action until the fire was out. The conflagration raced up Main Street until 22 acres were burned. Wilmington, Pocomoke and Crisfield all sent personnel and equipment to help fight the fire but almost one million dollars of damage was sustained by the city. The city, which had been ravaged by fire so many times before, worked to implement a fire prevention program. In 1916 Salisbury bought its first piece of motorized fire equipment and this building was completed in 1928to house the growing department’s equipment.
TURN AND WALK NORTH ON DIVISION STREET TOWARDS MAIN STREET.
southeast corner of Main Street and Division Street
The construction of a modern hotel in the center of Salisbury was discussed for years in the early 1900s by city leaders who considered it essential to the future economic prosperity of the city. In the early 1920s the Wicomico Hotel Company was formed and the classically inspired seven-story tower, the largest structure in downtown Salisbury, was the result in 1923. The Wicomico no longer entertains guests but it remains a fixture as Salisbury’s tallest building.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
F. Leonard Wailes Law Office
118 E. Main Street
The F. Leonard Wailes Law Office building, designed by Salisbury architect W. Twilley Malone and constructed in 1927, is a two-story brick building opposite the Wicomico County Courthouse in a line of early- to mid-20th century commercial buildings. The building is distinguished by the Neo-Federal architectural finishes including Flemish and common bond brickwork, with arched window and door openings defining the first floor and four 6/6 windows lighting the second floor. The cornice is trimmed with a finely executed series of tapered modillion blocks. The interior is finished with raised-panel wainscoting and ogee molded backband surrounds. A secondary entrance on the east side of the building opens into a side staircase that rises to the second floor office space.
126 E. Main Street
Construction of the Colonial Building is estimated to date to around 1927 when it was most likely conceived as a law office. The well-preserved Colonial Revival office in Flemish bond brick is dominated by its twelve-over-twelve sash windows on each of the first two floors. Even the trio of rounded roof gables fit nine-over-nine windows and the glazed front door is flanked by twelve-light sidelights and a glazed transom.
TURN LEFT ON BAPTIST STREET.
Old School Baptist Church
southeast corner of Baptist Street and Route 50
This single-story Colonial Revival brick building was constructed in 1920 to replace a small frame 1820 structure. Brick quoins accent the corners and round arched openings are filled with colored glass windows.
CROSS FOUR-LANE U.S. 50 AND TURN LEFT.
Wicomico Presbyterian Church
Broad Street at US 50
On March 12, 1672, Somerset County granted Presbyterians permission to conduct regular services on the Wicomico River. The first church located six miles down river, was one of five churches organized by Francis Makemie in 1683. Makemie arrived from Ireland to minister to Presbyterians on the Delmarva Peninsula, organizing them into congregations. It moved to Rockawalkin, 1742, and to Salisbury in1830. The present sanctuary was built in 1859.
Trinity United Methodist Church
112 High Street at Division Street
One of the architectural gems of Salisbury, Trinity United Methodist Church was designed in 1905 by Charles of Cassell of Baltimore in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The rusticated stone church executed in grey Port Deposit granite and trimmed with Indiana limestone features steeply pitched hip roofs covered with red slate. The church is conceived in an asymmetrical triangular form with a three-story entrance and bell tower rising 70 feet above US 50. The church displays eight sanctuary windows and two mosaic panel attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Trinity congregation formed in 1866 when eight members withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church and began worshiping in a small chapel on Water Street until a large frame structure was erected in 1869. The building burned in 1884 and the replacement building was ready in the summer of 1886 - months before the Great Fire of 1886 engulfed Salisbury.
TURN RIGHT ON N. DIVISION STREET AND WALK INTO THE NEWTOWN HISTORIC DISTRICT.
Established by ordinance in 1975, Newtown is distinguished by residential reconstruction after the two severe fires in 1860 and 1886. The Newtown Historic District is the oldest and larger of the two residential Historic Districts in Salisbury. It possesses a distinctive quality because of the repetition and continuity of significant historic features throughout this community. Massive late 19th- and early 20th- century Victorian style houses are found along North Division Street as well as along William, Walnut and Isabella Streets, and Park Avenue.
401 N. Division Street
Singularly outstanding among the Queen Anne dwellings that define Salisbury’s Newtown neighborhood is the elaborately detailed Gillis-Grier House, named after the two inter-related families that held title to the property between 1896 and 1975. While this hyphenated name recognizes the property’s long-term owners, the impressively designed and crafted house was assembled for Salisbury merchant James Cannon in 1887. Dominated by a three-story tower with a conical roof of patterned slate, the sprawling hip-roofed dwelling includes multiple pavilions, bay windows, and a variety of gabled dormers that provide a variety of form that is enriched with varying styles of exterior siding and applied decorations. The lively exterior is matched by equally rich interiors of late-19th century design. Parquet floors on the first floor are combined with cabinet style mantels with tiled fireboxes. Spotted throughout the house are colored glass windows that provide another rich source of interior decoration to the many-roomed interior.
Bethesda United Methodist Church
406 N. Division Street
The congregation formed in the late 1830s but considers its true start point December 15, 1841 whenDr. Augustus Webster, the President of the Maryland Conference of Methodist Protestant Churches wrote in his diary of preaching to a new congregation in Salisbury. It would be three decades before the organization got its own sanctuary on Broad Street; the present grey stone church dates to 1922.
Charles Bethke House
601 N. Division Street, northeast corner of Elizabeth Street
Clothing retailer Charles Bethke financed construction of this two-and-a-half story Queen Anne frame dwelling in 1903. Bethke, of German descent operated a men’s clothing store in downtown Salisbury until the outbreak of World War I when, it is thought, anti-German sentiment caused the family to relocate to Baltimore. The Bethkes sold the house in 1922. The asymmetrical design features a two-story octagonal tower, Tuscan-columned wrap-around porch and fish-scale shingles in the gable.
TURN RIGHT ON ELIZABETH STREET.
B. Frank Kennerly House
103 Elizabeth Street
The well-proportioned and finely detailed exterior of this Queen Anne house was designed by architect Woolford Johnson and erected by his brother William, a prominent Salisbury builder around the turn of the 19th century. The house was built in 1904 for B. Frank Kennerly, a part owner of clothing retailer Kennerly, Mitchell & Co. The distinguishing glory of the home is the three-story octagonal tower capped by a conical roof and covered with fish-scale shingles.
Poplar Hill Mansion
117 Elizabeth Street
Poplar Hill Mansion was built as the manor house of a farm outside the small eighteenth century town of Salisbury, which had slowly expanding since 1732 from a port landing site at the head of the Wicomico River, more than a half mile away. Construction was begun by Major Levin Handy, originally from Newport, Rhode Island. In 1795 the Major took out a deed for 357 acres of the original 700 acre land patent called “Pembertons Good Will.” The house Handy began in 1795-96 was an ambitious Federal-style structure, outdistancing most buildings in the area in size and fine detail. Unfortunately, because of severe medical conditions, the Major’s architectural ambitions exceeded his ability to finance them. In 1803 the property was ordered to be put up for sale for payment of debts. The house was still incomplete. In 1805 the title was passed to a prominent physician in Salisbury, Dr. John Huston. When the Doctor died in 1828 there were fruit trees, vegetable crops, sheep, cattle, and eighteen slaves on the property, as well as $110 “cash on hand.” Today Poplar Hill Mansion is the oldest documented structure in Salisbury.
TURN RIGHT ON POPLAR HILL AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON E. WILLIAM STREET.
200 East William Street
The Perry-Cooper House has the only Victorian French mansard roof remaining in the City of Salisbury. It also retains in large measure the architectural details, including a delicate stenciled design, of its exterior. The house was the residence of one of Salisbury’s well-known civic leaders, Thomas Perry. An educator, newspaper publisher and editor, financier, industrialist, and official of county government, his family occupied the house from 1897 until 1950.
TURN LEFT ON DIVISION STREET. BEAR RIGHT ON HIGH STREET (TRINITY CHURCH WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT).
John B. Parsons Home
300 Lemmon Hill Lane
The highest elevation in the City has been known as Lemmon Hill since the late 18th century when one of Salisbury’s earliest known physicians, Robert Lemmon, lived here. Early structures built here did not survive into the 1900s. The first Colonial Revival building on the property was constructed by William E. Booth, a contractor in the early 1900s. In the 1920s John B. Parsons, a millionaire businessman originally from Wicomico County, bequeathed a liberal endowment to create a retirement home for aged women in Salisbury. The property was purchased, similar Colonial Revival wings added and the John B. Parsons Home has remained virtually unchanged ever since.
CROSS BACK OVER ROUTE 50.
Old City Hall and Firehouse
100 Church Street
In February 1896 the Salisbury City Council purchased what was then known as the “Tracy lot” on West church Street for $1,000 from George C. Hill and in a July 4th ceremony that year the cornerstone was laid for the new City Hall and Firehouse. The municipal services building is one of the most distinctive public buildings erected during the late 19th century, designed by Thomas H. Mitchell, with its multi-faceted brick exterior accented with rusticated stone trim reflects Victorian eclecticism. An unusual, two-tiered pyramidal spire that incorporates babbled dormers as well as louvered vents distinguishes the four-story tower. The tower stands as the building’s signature architectural feature but it had a practical use as well. The interior of the tower above the first floor was left open so that hoses could be hung on racks to dry. The fire department left in 1928.
WALK WEST TO ST. PETER’S STREET AND TURN LEFT.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
115 St. Peter’s Street
The present church is the third building to stand on this site. St. Peter’s Church was built as a chapel on a a two-acre site. It was completed in 1772, at a cost of 600 English pounds, and measured 45 feet by 65 feet. Many knew it then as “Head of River Chapel” or “Salisbury Chapel.” By 1789, St. Peter’s had fallen into disrepair. To rebuild it, some of the property was sold, which now corresponds with today’s downtown Salisbury. The rebuilt church and much of Salisbury was destroyed by fire in 1860. The second St. Peter’s Church was erected in 1862. A rose window was added, along with other touches of the Romanesque style. Its deep-toned bell sounded the town’s fire alarm. On Sunday, October 17, 1886, as the bell was calling the evening service, fire broke out in a livery stable in Salisbury. The church and most of Salisbury was again destroyed by fire. The third and present St. Peter’s was completed in 1887, and celebrated its first service, the Holy Eucharist, at 6 a.m. on Christmas Day, 1887.
CONTINUE TO THE END OF ST. PETER’S STREET AT MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT. WALK ONE BLOCK BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.