Betterton Historic District
Betterton, Kent County
The Betterton Historic District consists of a collection of vernacular Victorian resort structures lying within the incorporated town of Betterton, Kent County, Maryland. The town is situated on tree-covered bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Sassafras, Elk, Bohemia, and Susquehanna Rivers with the Chesapeake Bay, approximately 15 miles north of Chestertown. The streets are laid out in an irregular grid pattern. Several deep ravines run through the town and many of the buildings are oriented towards the beach or sited to respond to the terrain. No major changes have occurred in the street pattern. The examination of a post card, postmarked 1914, of the shoreline up the Sassafras, shows that Betterton's shoreline has changed very little in 70 years. The district is roughly bound by the Chesapeake Bay to the north, Gut Marsh to the east, Howell Point Road to the south, and farmland to the west. The area of Betterton outside the historic district includes large estates and modern buildings. The district includes many of the homes, hotels and cottages built to accommodate steamboat passengers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historically, the town was entered from the water. The town is oriented towards the beach and existing piers. The two major streets of Betterton, Main Street and Ericsson Avenue, descend the bluffs to meet at the beach near the location of the piers and pavilion. Notable buildings within the district include the hotels and boarding homes which catered to the steamboat passengers, several churches, and summer cottages, dating from the golden age of the passenger steamboats on the Chesapeake Bay. Betterton's natural features played a major role in the town's development. Steamboat passengers traveled to Betterton to enjoy the spectacular views, excellent fishing, and nettle-free swimming. To accommodate these tourists, the town created several parks. These included the beach, a quaint footbridge connecting Bayside Boulevard and Boulevard Street, and a small area with beaches facing the Sassafras River along Bayside Boulevard.
The significance of the Betterton Historic District lies in its association with the passenger steamboat on the Chesapeake Bay. Bayside resorts such as Betterton, developed during the last two decades of the 19th century, in response to the emerging middle class demand for leisure time recreation. These resorts served as an escape from cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia. Betterton, along with Tolchester and Love Point on the "Upper Shore," sprang up along the steamboat lines of the Chesapeake Bay and grew with the popularity of the cruises. Betterton is the last intact community of the steamboat's golden age. Other resorts, both on the Western and Eastern Shores have either been destroyed or dramatically altered. Although several hotels were constructed during Betterton's heyday, it was the cottages and rooming homes that created the "quaint, unpretentious charm which combines the atmosphere of the Eastern Shore countryside with that of a seaside resort."