Replica 1883 Joppa Steamboat Wharf & Terminal Are Now Open

The replication of the 1883 Maryland Steamboat Company's Denton Wharf is now finished. The completed facility includes the main terminal building consisting of a passenger waiting room, steamship agents office and warehouse space for assorted commodities shipped to this busy 19th century port on the upper Choptank River opposite the Town of Denton.

Several outbuildings that served as livestock and fertilizer storage structures have also been replicated and will be adaptively retrofitted to house exhibits and river outfitters.

The main terminal building is complimented by over 3,000 square feet of platform and wharf structures wrapping and fronting the main terminal complex as well as an additional 1,200 square foot upper wharf dedicated to transient and excursions vessels. Expect to see the Cambridge Lady  and other visiting excursion vessels at the complex beginning summer 2003.

The berth at the main wharf will be occupied by the Chesapeake Bay's largest surviving Skipjack- Flora A. Price built in Chance, Maryland in 1910. A second skipjack - F. C. Lewis, Jr. has been preserved as a land based exhibit …and a third skipjack - Maggie Lee is awaiting funding for a complete restoration.

Objectives and History of the Construction Project

Heavy equipment moved to the waterfront in West Denton in September 2001 to begin reconstruction of the historic Joppa Steamboat Wharf.   Pile driving began after the layout of the original 1883 wharf was carefully surveyed. The replica wharf was completed in early spring 2002.  Construction began on the timber frame of the replica terminal building in May 2002.

This project is the culmination of over three years of research, planning and design to create a unique tourism destination that interprets the Eastern Shore’s transportation history from a "riverine trade" vantage point.  These past efforts have been substantially funded through Maryland Historical Trust grants and these grants have provided the momentum needed to successfully complete this historic preservation project. 

River Trade and Transportation Exhibit

The wharf and freight/passenger terminal will serve as both a transportation museum and a visitor’s center for recreational boaters, bicyclists, and other visitors touring the scenic upper Choptank River and Caroline County.  The museum/visitor’s center will display exhibits that interpret the history of commercial river, roadway, and rail activities, which transpired along the West Denton waterfront.

A key objective of this project is to construct a working waterfront setting that interprets rural transportation history and preserves maritime resources of national significance. These resources are significant because they represent an example of one of the Chesapeake Bay’s vanishing cultural resources … riverfront, wharf and warehouse structures that served the maritime trades since the early nineteenth century. Wharves and warehouses (such as those located in West Denton, located over thirty miles up a riverine system) represented the nodes of communication and transportation for goods and passengers to the rest of the tidewater region before a reliable network of roads and rails were established. Thus, the wharves, landings, towns and the vessels that plied their goods along the rivers provided a powerful, direct connection between place and livelihood.

During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century this site was a prominent wharf which initially served as a “port of call” for schooners, bugeyes and skipjacks plying their products and later served the steamboat trade as the “West Denton Wharf” facility for the Maryland Steamboat Line’s majestic steamboats the Joppa and the Avalon. This wharf and adjacent West Denton wharves collectively formed an inland port that served as a regional hub for moving goods throughout the Upper Shore via convenient connections to river, rail and roadway networks. 

Warehouse and Passenger Terminal

The museum and visitors center will re-establish a nostalgic component of this historic waterway transportation mode that at one time was the primary mode of transportation for both commerce and passenger trade along the Eastern Shore’s rivers.  Few semblances of this bygone era of the steamboat, schooner and related maritime trades remain. Of specific relevance to this site, is its multi-modal history involving maritime, rail and roadway transportation dating back to the early 19th century. The completed project improvements will recreate an historic transportation facility that is unique to the region.

The Joppa Wharf Museum, has been constructed as a replica freight/passenger terminal (20’ X 60’), a second replica freight shed (12’ X 30’) will house a small visitors center targeting heritage tourism and nature tourism and a third structure (15' X 20') will serve as an accessory building located beyond the wharf.   The locations of these buildings approximate their historic locations as shown on the 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.

The functional uses of the structures will also reflect their historic uses.  For example, the passenger waiting room occupied the upriver end of the freight /passenger terminal and the finish treatments of this room reproduce the atmosphere of a turn-of-the-century steamboat passenger terminal including the ticket window, the steamship agents office and furnishings reflective of the era.

Skipjack Exhibit

In addition to the museum and visitors center, the enhancement project includes the preservation of a historic skipjack, F.C. Lewis, Jr., as an exhibit within the wharf setting.  Lewis makes it possible for visitors to experience life onboard a skipjack for crew members of these working sail craft.  The skipjack also draws attention to the role that skipjacks played as river traders connecting farm towns to Bay cities in the era before railroads and highways

Denton Bridges

The transportation museuml also captures and document the history of the Choptank River’s “Denton Bridges” which had an intimate relationship with both the maritime trade on the upper Choptank and the Town of Denton.  The earliest documentation of a “Denton Bridge” crossing over the Choptank River dates to 1811 and was a privately funded iron “pivot draw” (swing span). This moveable bridge is documented as the first moveable bridge constructed on the Eastern Shore.

The earliest documentation of a Denton Bridge crossing over the Choptank River dates to 1811 and was a privately funded iron “pivot draw” (swing span).  This moveable bridge is reputed (based on MSHA’s Report, Historic Highway Bridges in Maryland: 1631-1960) to be the first moveable bridge constructed on the Eastern Shore. This structure, which was severely damaged by a collision with a schooner, was replaced by a similar iron structure in 1875.  After many years of service and numerous collisions with the River’s vessels, the second iron bridge was replaced with a modern concrete structure with a single leaf “bascule draw” span in 1913. The original abutments for this structure still remain just upstream from the new high level bridge (See Photos of 1875 and 1912 bridges).

Heritage Tourism and Water Trails

Another unique component of this project is the concept of developing regional water trails that promote heritage tourism and nature tourism. The reconstructed wharf structures will serve as a strategic "hub" destination for heritage tourists and recreational boaters seeking both heritage and nature tourism adventures. As a "river trail hub" this site will serve as an exploration gateway that will allow tourists to experience the rich history of the upper Choptank River through targeted nature and heritage tourism programs.  The Chesapeake Gateways Network program of the National Park Service is taking part in planning the water trail related components for this project including trail design, signage, marketing and the development of a "soft" landing prototype at the Joppa Wharf site to facilitate the launching of canoes, kayaks and other small craft. NPS also funded the Choptank and Tuckahoe RiverGuide.

For answers to questions, or if you have comments or would like information about volunteer opportunities, contact Carl Scheffel, Executive Director OHTMC, by email or at (410) 241-8661 for project updates and related river trail activities.


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