Rich in tradition and history, this region was first mentioned by Captain John Smith in his journals during his exploration of the Nanticoke River in 1608. This tract of land was a portion of ten thousand acres along the north shore of the Nanticoke River granted by Charles Calvert to Lord Baltimore. The entire tract was patented in 1664 as Nanticoke Manor. In 1671, the Colonial Assembly recommended this point as a ferry crossing.
A village on the western bank of the Nanticoke River in southeastern Dorchester County was known simply as “the town on the Nanticoke River” until being decreed by the Colonial Assembly as Vienna on July 11, 1706. The town thrived as a port capable of handling large ships carrying goods from England, and then also as a trade center when a tobacco warehouse was built in 1762. Vienna was the site of the first shipyard on the Nanticoke River.
Its importance to commerce and trade was evident when it was attacked by British vessels at least five times during the Revolutionary War, taking ships and provisions. The only Revolutionary military casualty on Dorchester soil, Levin Dorsey, died on these shores, hit by a shot fired from a British vessel. In the War of 1812, Vienna was again attacked by British forces.
Present day Vienna is no longer a commercial hub of Maryland. Much of the past architecture survives, and a determined effort has restored the physical qualities of many homes as our walking tour through this historic residential town will demonstrate...
Old School Park
south end of Market Street
The salvaged bell from the old high school on Market Street standing in the park is from Henry McShane & Co. of Baltimore. Founded in 1856, over 300,000 McShane church bells ring out from the towers of cathedrals, churches, municipal buildings, universities and schools everyday, all over the world.
WALK NORTH AWAY FROM THE PARK ON MARKET STREET (THE TENNIS COURT WILL BE ON YOUR RIGHT).
201 Market Street
Dating to the late 1700s and among the oldest buildings in Vienna, this house is thought to have been built in the late 18th century. It features chestnut ceiling beams in the kitchen, wide pine flooring, hand-hewn sills, and mantled fireplaces. Most of the carpentry is mortise and tenon.
127 Market Street
This Italianate dwelling was built about 1870 by Thomas Higgins, a prominent Vienna merchant. The house is three bays long and boasts a two-story central bay that protrudes to suggest a tower. Above the central window of the second floor is a hood, also suggestive of the Italianate style. The elaborate cornice has carved brackets with turned drop-finials.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
Vienna Methodist Church
206 Church Street
This structure is the third Methodist Protestant Church building to stand at this site. The first was built in 1849, a second in 1882, the third (and present church) in 1901. In 1941 the Methodist Episcopal and Methodist Protestant churches combined and officially became known as the United Methodist Church in 1968.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
203 Church Street
Originally known as the Chapel of Ease and built in 1709, the present St. Paul’s was one of the earliest congregations in Dorchester County. The original building’s foundation is located in the Protestant Episcopal Cemetery on Chapel of Ease Road. A church was rebuilt at its present location in 1892.
TURN LEFT ON MIDDLE STREET.
125 Middle Street
This is one of Vienna’s oldest structures, constructed around 1790. Although the building has seen many changes, much of the early carpentry is still evident, including exposed ceiling beams and working fireplaces with beautiful mantles.
120 Middle Street
J.T. Webb, a member of a prominent Dorchester County family, owned the house in 1877, when the Illustrated Atlas of Dorchester County was published. It sits on the largest single lot in Vienna. This house has a hyphen and kitchen on line with the street and main part of the house. This home, like the house across at 125 Middle, has two exterior brick chimneys on its gable ends and another on the outside of the kitchen. and the grand opening took place two years later.
100/101/103 Middle Street
These three saltbox structures were built around 1900 as a business venture by James Higgins, a prominent Vienna businessman who owned several town properties. Their design remains relatively unchanged today. The homes are known around town as “The Three Sisters.”
TURN LEFT (NORTH) ON RACE STREET.
Hebron Savings Bank
southeast corner of Race Street and Market Street
Hebron Savings Bank began business in 1910 in a room, which was also used to store salt. One hundred pound bags of salt, used for hog killing, were stored in the room. Lots of times, the salt would spill out from the sacks when they burst from the moisture. The first bank appeared in Vienna in 1906; this brick branch building features Greek Revival detailing.
Vienna Heritage Museum
303 Race Street
The museum opened in 2002 in the old Hurst and Brother Service Station and Confectionary Shop which operated on this site from the 1920s until the 1970s. The building has also served as a mail order bookstore and a hide tanning operation. It became a museum after the Martinek family closed their operation - the last remaining mother-of-pearl button factory in the United States - and donated their machinery to the Vienna Heritage Foundation.
TURN AND WALK EAST ON RACE STREET, TOWARDS THE NANTICOKE RIVER.
Ferry Toll House
west side of Race Street between Middle and Water streets
This one-room building was originally located near the present-day boat ramp at the foot of Race Street. It served as the base of operation and collection of fares for ferry service that was established by decree of the Colonial Assembly in 1756. A bridge built in 1828 replaced the ferry and was used for a period f 32 years, at which time the ferry was reinstated and this office constructed. It is thought that this building was used until 1931 when the first Route 50 bridge replaced the ferry service.
Dr. S.S. Ewell House
3 Water Street, north side of Race Street
The middle section containing an enclosed staircase and casement windows is thought to date to the late 1700s. The front two-story portion was built by Dr. S.S. Ewell in the early to mid-1800s. One of several physicians in Vienna at the time, Ewell had his practice in this house for a half-century. The chestnut beams and floor joists in the house are mortise and tenon; four of the five original fireplaces remain.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK ALONG WATER STREET.
105 Water Street
This house, built just prior to the Civil War, is depicted in the 1877 Illustrated Almanac of Dorchester County. A complete restoration included the clapboard exterior, plaster walls, wood floors, front porch and the two-story column with bay windows.
Captain C.E. Wright House
107 Water Street
This house is thought to have been built between 1835 and 1850 by ship’s carpenters for Clarence E. Wright, a seagoing captain. The home features many ship’s fittings and hardware incorporated into the design.
109 Water Street
The interior of this Civil War-era house remains much the same as when it was built. Before the 1920s, the roof featured a widow’s walk that was destroyed by a fire that claimed many roofs on Water Street.
111 Water Street
This house has been known to travelers along the Nanticoke River since the late 1700s when Alexander Douglas and his wife, Hanna, operated a tavern and ferry here. Douglas was the first postmaster of Dorchester County and, with his partner John Smoot, built the first bridge across the Nanticoke. The bridge was eventually removed because sailing ships had trouble negotiating the draw. The carefully restored house, now a bed-and-breakfast, is f post and beam construction and features six fireplaces.
113 Water Street
This house was originally a main section with a separate kitchen containing a large cooking fireplace. The house dates to the early decades of the 1800s and has been carefully restored with attention to historical details such as pegged rafters and corner braces, mortised studs and sills, dove-tailed floor joists and original fireplaces.
115 Water Street
This modernized house was built in the early 1800s and sold in 1802 for“7 slaves, 6 horses, 1 yoke of oxen, 17 cattle, I head of sheep, 70 bales of cleaned wheat and 1 crop of corn.” The present kitchen contains beaded, hand-hewn beams and a large cooking fireplace.
117 Water Street
This house, thought to be of the late Federal period in the 1850s, retains many of its original features, including random width pine flooring, old mantled fireplaces, and plain block interior wood trim.
119 Water Street
The original structure was a single story bungalow measuring about 30’ across and 20’ deep with a fireplace at each end. The wall timbers, sills and ceiling joists are all hand hewn with mortise and tenon joinery, construction techniques used by shipbuilders of that era. The front two upstairs rooms were added sometime around 1920 when a fire damaged many homes along Water Street. In approximately 1940, the house was again expanded by a two-story addition toward the back. This addition left the front roofline intact, but changed the back roofline to give the house a classic saltbox appearance.
Thomas Holiday Hicks House
121 Water Street
Prior to being elected Maryland’s Civil War Governor, Thomas Holiday Hicks moved here upon his marriage to the widow who owned it. Governor Hicks is credited with keeping Maryland from seceding from the Union although there was much local sympathy for the South. The house features original locks and latches, high fireplace mantles, and retains some of its original, beaded siding.
Water Street and Church Street at the Nanticoke River
The town of Vienna was designated a Port of Entry by the Maryland Assembly in 1762, and the Office of the Customs Collector was moved to town in 1768. The first Federal Inspector was appointed under the new Constitution in 1791, and the present Customs House was apparently built during this period. A brisk trade in tobacco and white oak lumber kept the port busy and the office in use until after the Civil War. The Customs House still stands on its original foundation.
Water Street and Church Street at the Nanticoke River
The original three-level structure was erected after Vienna became the lower shore custom district about 1768. It stands at the edge of a slope leading down to the shore of the Nanticoke River upon which wharves and warehouses were built to accommodate international shipping and commerce. The Customs House was closed in about 1865 when the Customs Collector was moved to Crisfield.
The Town acquired former industrial properties along the water in the 1990s. Dilapidated structures were demolished and a new Riverwalk, low profile stone revetment and marsh creation project have been implemented.
WALK WEST ON CHURCH STREET.
The Brick House
100 Church Street
The original section of this house, believed to date from the late 1700s, is now in the rear. In 1861, a wealthy merchant and sea captain, James K. Lewis, built the brick portion in Victorian style, making it the first brick home in Vienna. The spacious rooms feature 12-foot ceilings; the basement shows mortised and tenon joists as well as brick floors.
Methodist Episcopal Cemetery and Church site
Church Street, between Water and Middle streets
Three Methodist Episcopal churches have been built on this site dating back to the early 1880s. These were often referred to as The Meeting House and each structure sat facing the river. Grave markers in the adjacent cemetery date from the 1850s and display many old, local names. Some descendants of these old families still reside in Vienna.
112 Church Street
One of Vienna’s older homes, its recent restoration retained much of the original architecture. Random width pine floors, closed stairway, and exposed hand hewn beams attest to the structure’s age.
114 Church Street
This structure was built by a family named Conway inhe 1880s. It was later owned by the sister of Dr. George Bunting, founder of the Noxema Company; the residence remained in this family from 1920-1996.
TURN LEFT ON MIDDLE STREET.
204 Middle Street
Built in 1861, this house stayed in the same family until 1964. The name, “The Meadow,” was chosen by the current owner from three names found in the old deed (The Icehouse, Calmus Patch, The Meadow). The 3-story structure has oak stairways and woodwork, which remain in original, natural-finished condition. There are two original stained glass windows. The barn at the rear of the house is original and was first used to stable horses.
Headstones in this African American cemetery date from 1859 to 1918. In the 1877 Illustrated Almanac of Dorchester County, the cemetery’s owner was listed as “the Hughes family heirs.”James Alfred Hughes, a Vienna blacksmith and property owner prior to 1882, is buried here.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN THE TOWN PARK.