Photo credit: Henry Miller , 09/1987

Property Name: St. Mary's City Historic District
Date Listed: 8/4/1969
Inventory No.: SM-29
Location: St. Mary's City, Saint Marys County

Description: During the first 30 years of its existence, St. Mary's City, like Jamestown, was a country neighborhood, with its 12 to 14 buildings, each a country place, located within one or two miles of the fort. In 1667 St. Mary's City was incorporated by Lord Baltimore into a town containing about one-square mile. Between 1672 and 1676 the first streets were laid out and by the latter year the town had about 30 houses and a large new brick State House. From this period until the year 1694, when the capital of the province was removed to Annapolis, St. Mary's reached a peak of about 60 buildings. Of the total Town Land area of some 1,500 acres, about 700 acres are now occupied by numerous small farms. This cultivated land is principally in grain, with some tobacco and pasture land. Two hundred acres are occupied by St. Mary's College of Maryland, which has 7 or 8 main buildings. About 350 acres is in woodland, mostly concentrated to the southward toward St. Inigoes Creek. There is one subdivided residential area of Rosecroft, as yet thinly developed. St. Mary's City today is essentially a rural-residential area with about 100 isolated residences located along the water fronts of the river and St. Inigoes Creek and at varying intervals along the two main roads, Maryland Route 5 and the Mattapany Street-Rosecroft Road. No commercial or industrial enterprises of any character are situated within the bounds of the historic city nor in the immediate vicinity. The town site has been little disturbed over the years by erosion or the works of man. The flora and fauna are also still native to the earliest colonial period. The historic setting on the west bank of the St. Mary's River, across from St. Mary's City, is also preserved intact; this area is still occupied by three large farms that are located on 17th century grants. Included among these is West St. Mary's Manor, the earliest grant of land known to have been recorded in the Province of Maryland, May 9, 1634, and its manor house, which dates from about 1690. St. Mary's Historic District contains the remains of approximately 60 17th-century structural and archeological sites that embody architectural type specimens that are eminently suited to the study of earliest style and methods of construction. Most of these original structures were post-in-the-ground frame houses, covered with clapboard. Intended only as impermanent structures, none survive above ground.

Significance: St. Mary's City, founded in 1634, served as the provincial capital of Maryland until 1695 and is probably the only remaining major 17th century town site in the United States that has never been overbuilt or seriously intruded upon. Still largely rural, the great natural beauty and general historic setting of this town has survived virtually unaltered since the 17th century. Containing the undisturbed foundations of some 60 17th century structures, St. Mary's City is a major archeological site for the further study of 17th century building techniques and architecture. After Jamestown and Plymouth, St. Mary's City was the third permanent English settlement in the United States. Site of the first Catholic chapel built in the English colonies, St. Mary's City was also the place where religious toleration was for the first time in the New World recognized as a policy of government, and where separation of church and state was established in principle and practice. Much of the district is now owned by the State of Maryland, and included in the Historic St. Mary's City Museum and St. Mary's College of Maryland. The college was founded in 1840, and occupies part of the original town site.


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