Paul Baker Touart
Deal Island Historic District
Deal Island, Somerset County
The village of Deal Island is located in the northwest section of a long peninsula bounded by the Manokin River to the south and Tangier Sound to the north and west. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge that carries Deal Island Road (MD 363) over Law's Thorofare, a narrow strait that forms the island's northeastern boundary. Deal Island Harbor, still an active marina for fishing boats and an occasional skipjack, is located at the north end of the community adjacent to the bridge. Bordered by low land and marsh, Deal Island Road winds through the upper end of the island along the highest ridge of land. Many of the principal structures that define the Deal Island Historic District are found along the road, with a number of additional structures on the side roads and lanes that branch off the Deal Island Road. The south end of the district is lower in elevation and is characterized by an expanse of open space defined largely by marsh. The most common house type found in the district is the two or 2 1/2-story, three-bay, single-pile form, sometimes with a cross gable, dating from the late 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th. Also found in the district are examples of the regional stepped or "telescope" house form. Nationally popular early-20th century domestic architecture, such as Queen Anne, foursquare, bungalow, and Colonial Revival are also found. Of the few commercial structures in the district, the 1912 brick Bank of Somerset is the most distinctive. One Greek Revival-style church and two in the Gothic Revival style contribute to the district. Deal Island Road continues south of the historic district to the village of Wenona; due to a large stretch of marsh and open ground between the two villages, Wenona is not included within the limits of the district boundary. The 433-acre district contains 81 buildings and three cemeteries that contribute to its significance.
The Deal Island Historic District is locally significant for its architecture, as a representative collection of 19th and 20th century structures which reflect the livelihoods and priorities of island inhabitants and their institutions. Deal Island is one of two islands in Somerset County which have been inhabited continuously since the 17th century. The surviving dwellings, churches, and commercial buildings that define the village span the period between 1815 and the mid 20th century, and the collection of standing structures forms a diverse and distinctive representation of architectural traditions embraced by the range of island residents who resided here over the course of two centuries. Aside from the c. 1815 Federal-style Severn Mister House, and a portion of the c. 1825-30 Anderson House, the housing stock on Deal Island dates from the period stretching from 1870-1950, and includes a number of distinctive building traditions that are locally significant. Particularly evident are a number of stepped or "telescope" dwellings that are indigenous to Somerset County and the Eastern Shore in general. While common throughout the Eastern Shore as a whole, the community of Deal Island survives with one of the largest concentrations of stepped format service wing dwellings in Somerset County. Deal Island Historic District derives additional significance for its association with Reverend Joshua Thomas (1776-1853). Born in Somerset County on Potato Neck, Joshua Thomas was drawn to the Methodist religion as espoused by its early missionaries who traveled through the lower Shore during the last quarter of the 18th century. After his conversion at the age of 29, Thomas figured prominently in the growth and development of Methodism on the lower eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia, particularly serving the island and coastal villages in the region. He maintained a large presence on Deal Island by ultimately settling there, and he is buried next to the meeting house that bears his name. The period of significance for this district begins c. 1815, the approximate construction date of the Severn Mister House, the earliest extant in the district, and continues to 1954, by which date the historic character of the district had become fully established.