Paul Baker Touart
St. Michaels Historic District
St. Michaels, Talbot County
The St. Michaels Historic District comprises a cohesive group of residential, commercial, and ecclesiastical buildings dating from the late 18th through early 20th centuries located within St. Michaels, a small town fronting the Miles River in western Talbot County, Maryland. Begun in 1778 as a speculative development for a Liverpool merchant firm, St. Michaels was laid out on a grid plan around a central green; this pattern was retained as the town expanded through the 19th century. The district is primarily characterized by a highly cohesive collection of houses, churches, and commercial buildings reflecting a variety of 19th century periods and styles; a few modest dwellings survive from the late 18th century, and several bungalows reflect the early 20th century expansion of the town. The early development took place in the northern and eastern sections of the district; this area features a diverse collection of Federal-period buildings, including several relatively high-style brick houses, as well as the most extensive concentration of traditional one-room-wide, two-room-deep, 1 1/2 story dwellings surviving on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The western and southern sections of the district were developed in the mid and late 19th century; many of the frame and brick dwellings in these areas conform to traditional plans and forms and express Victorian fashion only through applied ornament, while others are more coherent statements of popular architectural styles. A large number of houses of this period are two stories high with a T- or L-plan and a two-story gallery filling one corner, St. Michaels is distinguished among Eastern Shore towns by the prevalence of this house form. A group of late 19th century storefronts define the commercial center of the town, located at the northern end of Talbot Street. The district also comprises four historic churches, including elaborate examples of High Victorian Gothic and Italianate styles as well as restrained vernacular church buildings. The district retains an unusually high degree of integrity, with notably few intrusions or unsympathetic alterations.
The St. Michaels Historic District is significant for its association with 18th century town planning in Tidewater Maryland. The district comprises the original 58 lots laid out around a green square in 1778 as a speculative development for a Liverpool merchant firm. Few 18th century town plans in Maryland reserved open space for other than residential use; in the case of St. Michaels, the square was intended to accommodate a Methodist meetinghouse. As St. Michaels grew through the 19th century, the grid pattern was expanded, and the original development remained intact. The district derives additional significance from its architecture, especially the outstanding collection of Federal period brick and frame houses including relatively high-style examples as well as an exceptionally large group of 1 1/2 story, one-room-wide by two-rooms-deep houses; the latter type exemplifies a traditional middle class dwelling form whose distribution in Maryland was limited to the Eastern Shore, and of which few examples survive. Also noteworthy in the domestic architecture of St. Michaels is a group of mid-to-late 19th century houses, two stories high with a T- or L-plan and a two-story gallery filling one corner; this form is characteristic of St. Michaels, and does not occur as extensively in other Eastern Shore towns of the period. Several significant late-19th century commercial buildings and churches complete the largely unbroken streetscapes of the town, and a group of bungalows reflects St. Michaels continued growth into the early 20th century. The Depression of the 1930s interrupted the development of the town, whose economy vacillated with the fortune of the surrounding agricultural enterprises and the Chesapeake Bay seafood industry. A limited amount of post-World War II development took place outside the historic district, and the town is currently enjoying a renaissance with considerable restoration and rehabilitation of historic buildings. In comparison with other Eastern Shore towns of the period, St. Michaels retains an exceptionally high degree of integrity.