Dr. Laurence G. Claggett - November 2009
Before Talbot Courthouse
Dr. Laurence G. Claggett
As an amateur historian who was born and raised on South Washington Street, I have always been interested in the early environs of Easton. Just what did this area look like before Talbot Court House was built in 1712? Herewith I’ll record some facts and surmises of this question that I’ve accrued over a long period.
Exactly 350 years ago, Lord Baltimore had Talbot County surveyed for settlement. It was a time when a few Native Americans and fewer Europeans populated this area of the Eastern Shore. Soon after Lord Baltimore opened his land, however, Quaker immigrants from the Western Shore who wished to find a place to establish an educated and ‘just’ society, along with a scattering of others, arrived to create a veritable land boom. By 1690 Talbot County’s population grew to 3,000 residents, making it the second most populous county in Maryland.
During this time, land became increasingly important for commerce and communication. The large percentage of Talbot’s early budgets allocated to roads, bridges and ferries attested to this need. To picture the beginnings of this great change and to imagine how these roads and bridges led into the town of Easton, I looked for the earliest roads that connected this area overland and the bridges and ferries needed to cross the tidewaters fingering in from the Chesapeake Bay, particularly where those creeks surrounded the town of Easton.
The earliest road embellished an existing crude Indian trail leading from Oxford, over a documented ‘Indian bridge’ at Anderton, eastward to Hole-in-the-Wall, over an undocumented, but required, bridge to cross Kings Creek to get to Hillsboro and points north.
Hole-in-the-Wall was a tavern at the crossroads of Almhouse Road and Old Trappe Road the was frequented by sailors from Oxford.
Then, a new road that was built from a southernmost part of the county at Clora’s Point ferry on the Choptank River, to Hole-in-the-Wall, forming an intersection with the Oxford-Hillsboro Road, and using Sherwoods Bridge to cross Trippe Creek. It then continued over an early Peach Blossom Bridge further east than the present one at about where Route 50 is now, over Edmondson’s Bridge at Windmill Branch, over two small bridges, over the North Branch of the Tred Avon, utilizing Pitts Bridge where the town of Easton eventually grew up, and on northward. This road did not follow the old Indian trail, but instead skirted the headwaters of these creeks to avoid the need for bridges. Most of this new road was probably passable by 1670.
Two spikes branched from this original six-foot-wide trunk highway, to access the St. Michaels/Miles River areas – one originally called Glebe Road, leading from the Pincushion to the vicinity of the present airport, the other I’ll call Glenwood Avenue Road.
At the base of Glenwood Avenue there is a constriction of the north branch of the Tred Avon where a bridge was possibly built. My speculation is based on the testimony of Jim ‘Bus’ Kinnamon, surveyor and premier Talbot geo-historian, who said that there was once a bridge there as he had seen “the old pilings.” Not those from the later bridge that was in use until 1915, he said, but much older pilings.
The road that crossed this bridge would have followed the northeast boundary of the Tilghman’s Fortune plat of 1659, passed near the Betty’s Cove (Quaker) Meeting House, circa 1668, crossed Glebe Road going toward St. Michaels at the Pincushion, and on to the Miles River ferry. Today, the Pincushion is the intersection of Unionville Road and the St. Michaels Road. This crossroad would have been the second oldest intersection in the county after the crossing at Hole-in-the-Wall.
The land around Easton was embraced by the north and south forks of the Tred Avon River. Another early question is how far did these forks penetrate the Easton area? Today they disappear just as they reach the town, as can be seen at Jobs Cove branch just south of Easton Point. This is the marshy area at the St. Michaels Road intersection along the bypass. But, even I recall a wooden bridge on Earle Avenue when I was a boy. My mother, a young girl in 1900, remembered that there was one on Washington Street near the hospital. I used to catch crayfish at the dip in front of the Dutch Cottage at 304 South Harrison Street. This demonstrates that the silting-in on these headwaters is an ongoing process.
Originally the north fork of the Tred Avon followed from Easton Point under St. Michaels Road, bent eastward as Tanyard Branch behind today’s Talbottown Shopping Center, through Springhill Cemetery, and terminated just west of Route 50 at Mulberry Hill. A small Brewers Branch started south behind Talbottown, followed up Turner’s Lane, and turned east before Goldsborough, sourcing at Foxley Hall on the corner of Aurora and Goldsborough streets. The well-remembered town engineer, Bill Corkran, found the remains of an ancient boat buried in his backyard at 109 North Hanson Street.
So, did the early large sailing vessels get as far as Pitts Bridge? Although deeper and much cleaner, Tanyard Branch, 350 years ago, was not much wider than it is today. The water that flowed down this branch was supplied only by springs and rainfall. Tidal change was small. Could the first commercial ships use this headwater to turn around for a return to sea? Not likely.
Most of the south side of Easton is drained by the South Fork of the Tred Avon. Its first branch was Job’s Cove, now only a tidal marsh as seen from the Easton Bypass (Rt. 322). Job’s Cove ran east behind the 1684 Third Haven Meeting House and then divided. The north division traversed where the present hospital stands, turning east across Harrison Street at Brookletts Avenue, then north to end before reaching Dover Street. The east divide terminated past the Dutch Cottage. The historic farmhouse Brooklets, once at about 213 South Hanson Street but now gone, was situated between the pincers of these two brooks.
Below Job’s Cove, the south fork of the Tred Avon became Papermill Pond, then, after passing under the Oxford Road, turned east as Windmill Branch. The bed of this branch makes an abrupt turn north past Route 50 and drains the large area between Dover Road and Dover Neck Road. The turnings of Windmill Branch and Tanyard Branch, northward and eastward, almost resulted in a watery encirclement of the place where the town would grow.
It is between the headwaters of Windmill Branch and Tanyard Branch that there was no doubt an Indian village. Aligned bones have been uncovered in the vicinity of Lomax Street; and excavations at the northern end of Locust Lane produced masses of oyster shells from under three feet of silt, leaving one to conjecture the number of years that have elapsed since they were placed there. I picture an Indian youth at this village, where schoolchildren now play at sports, discarding oyster shells from his family’s meal into a marsh, getting in his small canoe and paddling down Tanyard Branch to salt water for another supply of the succulent bivalves.
A half mile east of this imagined village, an additional food supply could have been found in the Woodenhawks Branch of Kings Creek, where mullet fish existed in profusion. Woodenhawks is the only minor land feature in Talbot County with an Indian name.
Another indication of native habitation is the name Armstrong’s Old Field, part of the Londonderry patent to Francis Armstrong, given to a rise of land in the area of the later Court House. This was likely, because of its name, an oak grove where Indians girded the trees to acquire a field for the practice of rudimentary farming. In the county records it is entered that stumps were grubbed to build the Court House. Easton historian Norman Harrington suggests that the name came from Armstrong’s use of it as a tobacco field. Probably both uses occurred.
The first woodland residents were decimated in numbers by diseases caught from 150 years of contact with European fur traders, and by 1659 most survivors had faded to inland recesses or to remote local necks. The rivers led the way for new arrivals and the process of building the roads, bridges and ferries for a new era to begin.
By Laurence G. Claggett with acknowledgment for the help of Darrin Lowery, Norris Taylor and Mark Cohoon.