Pamela M. James
Whitehaven Historic District
Whitehaven, Wicomico County
Whitehaven is located at the end of Whitehaven Road (an extension of Maryland Route 352) on the north bank of the Wicomico River. The ferry that crosses the river here has been in continuous operation since 1688 or earlier. In spite of its early beginnings, the town of Whitehaven is now a late-19th century village, consisting of a hotel, church, school, marine railway, and 24 houses dating from the 19th century. There are also two 20th century and one 18th century dwellings. The town is centered around fishing and the waterfront and is situated on a tidal river with a deep channel. Some residents still work the river daily, using the waterfront for fishing, oystering, and crabbing boats. There is a marina for working and pleasure boats and an operating marine railway. The primary 20th century intrusion is a large, rusting canning house east of the ferry; this was once very active in processing local tomatoes and other crops. Once much larger, Whitehaven evolved at the site of the county ferry as a shipping point for 17th and 18th century Maryland tobacco and continued through the 19th century as a major deep water terminal and shopping area. It was only after the river was dredged to Salisbury that Whitehaven declined as a port. At about the same time, the advent of the automobile further downgraded the significance of water transportation and the town. Many buildings, stores, and houses are gone, but those remaining preserve the memories of the more active past, with few intrusions and no commercialization. At the dead end of a county road with a ferry which operates only from sunup to sundown, Whitehaven is a quiet residential area. It has a consistent appearance of narrow streets, trees, white houses, waterfront, and marsh.
Whitehaven is significant to the history of the Eastern Shore on two counts. It is one of the oldest towns in this part of Maryland, authorized by the General Assembly in the late 17th century. Many towns created by the Assembly in the 17th and 18th centuries died immediate deaths; others grew beyond their original bounds into the larger towns on the Shore today. Whitehaven's initial survival may have been guaranteed by the ferry which began operation here in the 17th century and still continues today. The preservation of her village character was effected by changing economic factors that caused Salisbury, further up river, to grow and Whitehaven to be left behind in the 19th century. Although Whitehaven has this weight of history behind it, the town today retains almost no early architectural fabric. In the mid to late 19th century, the village was prosperous, leading to the construction of nearly all of the buildings standing today (there are but one 18th and two 20th century houses in the district). The houses and community buildings are for the most part solid examples of vernacular Victorian architecture--the kinds of buildings built on the Shore by prosperous citizens of the 19th century. They are outstanding as a surviving collection in their unaltered setting, rather than as individual structures. Whitehaven is thus an early entity, important because it has survived as a village, reflecting the changing times in its architecture rather than its size. It is the only such village in Wicomico County and one of a very few on the lower Shore as a whole.