South Chesapeake City Historic District
MD 213 & Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, Chesapeake City, Cecil County
The architecture of the South Chesapeake City Historic District reflects the town's period of greatest prosperity in the mid 19th century when the adjacent Chesapeake and Delaware Canal was an active commercial artery between major east coast waterways. Buildings from the 19th century dominate those few of the early 20th century and those of recent vintage. The structures of interest extend from the Canal to Fourth Street, along Bohemia, George, and Charles Streets. The earliest buildings date to the Federal period, but most of the structures date to the middle of the 19th century when use of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal was at its peak. Many structures are two and three stories in height and are built of wood with clapboard siding. During this period, the Greek Revival style was popular, and many of the district buildings utilize this architectural vocabulary. Examples of the Italianate style and a Masonic building with Romanesque details exist also. Buildings from the post-Civil-War era can be found. Pierced designs in wood from the time of the Philadelphia Centennial and the Gothic Revival exist, as well as a couple of examples of Second Empire style mansard roofs, and a few Queen Anne style buildings. Along George and Charles Streets between the Canal and Third Streets are rows of plainer houses of the late 19th century. The buildings and style mentioned have survived for the most part intact and in fair to good condition, with some in excellent condition.
Chesapeake City is located at the end of one of the nation's early lock canals. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal was built to connect the Delaware River with Chesapeake Bay via a meandering cut across the isthmus which begins the Delmarva Peninsula. It significantly reduced the length of the water route between Philadelphia and Baltimore. It has since become a part of the Atlantic intercoastal waterway. Cecil County's founder, Augustine Hermann, first saw the need for a canal in the late 17th century. In 1799 a corporation called the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company was formed and began surveying operations. Among the surveyors was the prominent architect, Benjamin Latrobe. Digging began in 1824 and was completed in 1829. The completed waterway was 36' wide and 10' deep. Still, the canal bottom was 10' above sea level. Locks were thus required to lift vessels 20' to float on the canal surface. The town grew up on the end of the canal where barges would load and unload cargo to and from ships. Also, a mill landing farther up Back Creek which had been a local shipping point now shifted to the town. By 1839, the new community was known as Chesapeake City, and was home to many canal workers. Warehouses and a lumber industry were also of early importance. The town grew rapidly throughout the remainder of the century attaining a peak population of approximately 1400. In 1919 the Federal Government purchased the canal and operated it with an eye to eliminating its twists, bends, a source of numerous accidents. This was a boon to long distance shippers but a blow to local commerce. As soon as the locks were removed in a conversion to sea level depth, the town ceased to grow. Time and progress passed it by. In 1943 a drawbridge connecting north and south Chesapeake City was destroyed and replaced by an overhand bridge to the west, which diverted motor traffic away from the town, and it has remained essentially unchanged. Today, the largest remaining segment of the original town is found on the south side of the canal where several streets of almost unaltered mid- to late-19th century buildings still stand. The Chesapeake City Historic District is a of both national and local heritage and a vital anchor very much needed for the cultural health of the community and the public at large.