Paul Baker Touart
Crisfield Historic District
Crisfield, Somerset County
The Crisfield Historic District comprises a cohesive collection of houses, churches, and commercial buildings. These resources date primarily from c. 1870 to 1930 and reflect the rapid growth of the town as the center of the booming Chesapeake Bay oyster industry during that period. The district encompasses much of Crisfield's main residential and commercial areas, locally known as "uptown" to distinguish it from the "downtown" commercial and industrial area along the Tangier Sound waterfront. The district is primarily characterized by frame houses set on lots of various sizes with varying setbacks. The largest and most elaborate of these houses are located along Main Street, Maryland Avenue, and Somerset Avenue and reflect the influence of the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, foursquare, and bungalow trends. The side streets off these principal avenues are lined with two-story, three-bay vernacular dwellings of the period, some with restrained mass-produced Victorian ornament. Along the back streets, numerous modest two-story, two-bay frame houses, erected to accommodate workers in seafood packing plants and related industries survive. Some of the early-20th century houses in the district are constructed of brick, stone, or concrete block. These materials were also chosen for the Colonial Revival and Art Deco commercial buildings along Main Street toward the west end of the district. The district also includes several noteworthy Gothic and Colonial Revival church buildings. Overall, the district retains a high level of integrity. Alterations are generally reversible and incompatible intrusions are few.
The Crisfield Historic District is architecturally and historically significant for several reasons. Crisfield was the principal center of the Chesapeake Bay seafood industry for the state of Maryland and for other east coast markets from the mid 19th century until the early 20th century. Reflecting the town's explosive growth through this period, Crisfield retains an excellent collection of late-19th century Victorian and early-20th century revival architecture. Crisfield's group of Queen Anne style houses include the most elaborate examples in Somerset County, and appropriately represent the substantial profits accumulated during the several decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century. Equally important are the scores of less elaborate frame dwellings that comprise the largest part of Crisfield's domestic architecture. These less expensive dwellings housed the middle and working classes that constituted the backbone of the town's society. Crisfield's religious architecture, built during the most prosperous years of oyster harvests, includes Somerset County's most elaborate High Victorian Gothic churches. The black community shared in the oyster profits and were able thereby to finance construction of two prominent Gothic Revival brick churches. The significant commercial architecture of Crisfield largely dates from the same period (1880-1930) and includes notable examples of utilitarian store buildings as well as distinctive Classical Revival bank buildings. Due to the 1928 fire a group of replacement commercial buildings follow simplistic Art Deco designs. Finally, located in the city cemetery on Somerset Avenue is the largest collection of decorative iron fence in the county. Surrounding seven family plots are elaborate iron fences shipped for the most part from the Champion Iron Fence Company in Kenton, Ohio.